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Inmate’s survivors sue police over fatal struggle in jail

A second civil rights lawsuit has been filed by survivors of an inmate who died after a 2013 struggle with officers at the Clark County Detention Center.

Luis Solano, 38, lost consciousness during the Feb. 25, 2013, incident and never recovered. He died on March 6, 2013, at University Medical Center.

His ex-wife, Alejandra, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday in Las Vegas as legal guardian of three of Solano’s children, who are minors. The Metropolitan Police Department and all four officers involved in the struggle with Solano are named as defendants.

According to the complaint, the corrections officers “used excessive force against Solano and placed Solano in a position that restricted Solano’s breathing, ultimately resulting in Solano’s untimely death.”

The lawsuit comes more than two years after Solano’s widow, who was pregnant at the time of his death, and his adult daughter filed their own federal lawsuit in Las Vegas against the officers. Alejandra Solano recently tried to join in as a plaintiff in that case, but a judge denied the request.

Attorney Mitchell Bisson represents Solano’s adult daughter, Carmen, who is administrator of her father’s estate. Bisson has described the events surrounding Solano’s death as “Las Vegas’ Eric Garner story.”

According to the New York Times, New York City reached a settlement with Garner’s family in July and agreed to pay $5.9 million to resolve a wrongful-death claim over his killing by the police on Staten Island a year earlier.

Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” were caught on video and have been used in protests against police brutality across the country.

Witnesses have said Solano uttered the same words before his death.

The Clark County coroner’s office ruled Solano’s death a homicide from complications of “positional asphyxia” from police restraint procedures.

Positional asphyxia is a rare occurrence in which a person falls, or is forced, into a position that restricts breathing and leads to suffocation.

IN WITHDRAWAL

Solano, a Mexican citizen who lived in Nevada, was jailed Feb. 21, 2013, on drug trafficking charges.

According to the lawsuit filed by his ex-wife, Solano suffered from anxiety and had a prescription for Xanax, a benzodiazepine. Two days after his arrest, he told the jail’s medical staff he needed his medication, but the request was denied.

Records say Solano became disruptive on the morning of Feb. 25, 2013. According to his ex-wife’s lawsuit, the change in his demeanor was caused by “the serious medical issue of benzodiazepine withdrawal.”

NaphCare Inc., which has a contract to provide medical services to Clark County jail inmates, is also named as a defendant in both federal lawsuits. The company is based in Birmingham, Ala.

Solano experienced an “adverse reaction” as a result of the defendants’ failure to provide him with either his prescribed medication or treatment for benzodiazepine withdrawal, according to his ex-wife’s lawsuit.

Four officers “understood Solano’s reaction as being uncooperative and a struggle ensued,” the lawsuit says.

Two videos showed Solano’s interactions with officers. The first was grainy surveillance footage without audio; the second was filmed by an officer using a hand-held camera, with audio, after Solano was unconscious.

The videos were played at a fact-finding hearing in February 2014, but investigators had blurred the faces of everyone except Solano. Bisson since has obtained the unedited videos.

OFFICERS CLEARED

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson announced in March 2014 that the four officers would not face criminal charges.

“Officers were attempting to subdue Mr. Solano because he was causing a disruption in the corrections facility, creating a potentially dangerous situation for the officers and other inmates,” Wolfson said in a statement. “A thorough investigation indicated that officers did not use excessive force in their efforts to restrain him.”

Those involved were Sgt. David Aspiazu, hired in 2001; corrections officer Bradley Temple, hired in 2000; corrections officer Patrick Gray, hired in 2003; and corrections officer Eugene Dixon, hired in 2000.

The officers forced Solano face-first to the floor, according to his ex-wife’s lawsuit, and Aspiazu knelt on top of him while the other three hogtied him.

“The physical encounter lasted about three minutes, after which jail personnel noticed that Solano was unconscious and struggling to breathe,” the lawsuit says.

Solano’s ex-wife is represented by attorney Ryan Alexander. Attorney Craig Anderson, who represents the Police Department, declined to comment Friday. NaphCare’s lawyer could not be reached.

Bisson said he has been discussing a resolution of his client’s lawsuit with NaphCare, and he has filed a motion for summary judgment on her behalf against the four officers.

“The judge has enough evidence in front of him to find them liable for violating Mr. Solano’s constitutional rights,” the lawyer said.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710. Follow her on Twitter: @CarriGeer.

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