Las Vegas police to pay $1 million to settle lawsuit in man’s death

The Metropolitan Police Department will pay $1 million to the family of a mentally ill man killed two years ago in a confrontation with officers.

The settlement approved Monday by the agency’s Fiscal Affairs Committee is among the largest in the Police Department’s history.

It ends a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by relatives of Dustin James “DJ” Boone, who died in November 2009 after three Las Vegas police officers took him into custody for a mental health evaluation.

One of the officers used a lateral vascular neck restraint, similar to a sleeper hold, to subdue the 340-pound man, which the medical examiner said led to his death.

Boone family lawyer John Burton said his clients wanted to put the case behind them and appreciated the Police Department’s willingness to settle without a trial.

“The family was absolutely devastated by the events, and no amount of money would make any difference in that sense,” Burton said.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who approved the settlement, said the case created “significant exposure” to his department. Going to trial could potentially cost the agency much more in a jury award, he said.

Gillespie said he had no issues with how the officers used the neck restraint, which is intended to cause temporary unconsciousness by cutting blood flow to the brain. However, he called the officers’ decision to enter Boone’s home a “pivotal one.”

The confrontation unfolded after a mental health worker dealing with Boone, 29, called police to take him in for an evaluation. Boone, who had schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, had been burning papers in his fireplace, and the worker thought he might be off his medications.

Officers Kevin Koval, Jerry Ybarra and Michael Crowley responded and eventually entered Boone’s house through an unlocked sliding glass door. Boone, who was naked and watching the World Series, tried to get away.

The struggle spilled onto the back patio, and Boone ended up on his stomach while one officer applied the neck restraint and the others handcuffed him. Boone then lost consciousness, and paramedics could not revive him.

The medical examiner ruled Boone died from cardiopulmonary arrest as a result of the neck restraint. His enlarged heart also could have played a key factor in the death, the medical examiner said.

A coroner’s inquest jury ruled officers’ actions were excusable.

Gillespie said expert witnesses at trial would have second-guessed the officers’ decision to enter the house.

“Like I told the officers, it’s not that their decision was wrong, but other people in the criminal justice system would challenge their decision,” he said.

Those experts also would have challenged the use of the neck restraint, he said.

Gillespie’s agency now uses the case in training to spark discussion on ways to approach similar situations when it comes to entering a home. Every situation is different, the sheriff said, and there is no right or wrong way to handle them.

Gillespie noted that the officers in the Boone case did many things well, such as taking about 30 minutes to gather information and talk with the mental health worker before entering the house through an unlocked door.

In addition, all three officers were members of the Crisis Intervention Team and had received special training in dealing with the mentally ill.

“I just felt that a case could really be made by expert testimony and by second-guessing what they did as to why they made entry,” Gillespie said.

Burton commended the Police Department’s willingness to work toward a settlement, but he said the officers went too far in subduing a man who had been taken into custody several times before without any problems.

“It’s definitely something that never should have happened,” said the lawyer, who is based in Pasadena, Calif.

Boone was a “gentle giant” who was only trying to get away from — not attack — the officers who suddenly showed up in his house, Burton said.

The officers could have been more patient and work with the mental health professional at the scene and with Boone’s father, who was en route, to talk Boone into custody, the lawyer said.

Police often go too far in subduing people, he said, referring to similar cases across the country.

“They go way beyond what they need to do and way beyond what is safe to do,” Burton said. “One really has to ask why they expected someone to survive what they did to them.”

The settlement will be paid from the Police Department’s self-insurance trust fund.

Two of the agency’s other large settlements involved cases in which someone died after police used the neck restraint.

In 1993, the agency paid more than $1.1 million to the family of Charles Bush, a 39-year-old drug user who died of heart failure resulting from a choked carotid artery.

In 2003, the agency paid $500,000 to the family of 33-year-old French national Philippe LeMenn. The mentally ill man died of asphyxiation resulting from the restraint while being subdued at the county jail.

At the time of Bush’s death in 1990, the Police Department did not train officers to use the neck restraint. Every officer now undergoes 16 hours of training and annual refresher courses on the technique, which is considered non-lethal if used properly.

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@
reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281.

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