Autopsy released in wrongful death suit against HPD

Published: May. 6, 2014 at 8:36 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 3, 2014 at 4:00 PM CDT
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In a lawsuit filed against HPD, a woman said officers used excessive force and attacked her...
In a lawsuit filed against HPD, a woman said officers used excessive force and attacked her 17-year-old son during an undercover drug bust.

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A mother claims her 17-year-old son died at the hands of Huntsville Police. Nancy Smith filed a federal lawsuit in March claiming assault and battery, wrongful death and excessive force among other things.

In the suit, Smith alleges her family has not been interviewed by Huntsville Police and that she had been refused a copy of her son's autopsy report.

The cause of death was ruled undetermined, according to an autopsy performed by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences. The autopsy report stated the findings included blunt force injuries and anoxic/hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, which is when the brain does not receive enough oxygen.

The lawsuit claims Smith's son was set up in a drug sting by Huntsville Police using an 18-year-old confidential informant. The lawsuit states that at some point an officer in plain clothes ran towards Smith's son without identifying themselves. According to the court documents Smith son ran. The documents went on to say an officer threw him to the ground, cuffed him and pepper-sprayed him. The autopsy report also stated the teenager's neck was restrained.

The lawsuit claims police told paramedics the 17-year-old swallowed a bag of drugs. Smith and her lawyers contend a bag of drugs was never found in his stomach. The autopsy report also does not indicate anything unusual found in the teen's stomach.

In an effort to retrieve the alleged bag, the lawsuit claims police had to shove a sharp object into the teen's throat.

The report states, "Because of the circumstances of this event, it is difficult to discern if the decedent died from a drug overdose or an asphyxia event exacerbated by either the occlusion of the airway by the foreign object, a possible vascular occlusion associated with the neck restraint, or from a combination of all the events that transpired during this incident."

Huntsville Police also admitted two pieces of evidence to be tested. The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences determined they were both zip-lock bags of MDMA, also know as Ecstasy.

The autopsy report was authorized by Madison County District Attorney, Rob Broussard. Broussard said that is standard practice for any case that seems out of the "usual" or is unexpected.

The autopsy report stated Smith's son was about six feet tall and weighed about 150 pounds.

The Huntsville Police Department and the Huntsville city attorney have not commented on the case.

You can read the full lawsuit in PDF format here.

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