RI Federal Court Weighs Lawsuit Involving Police Shooting of Mentally Disabled Pawtucket Man

One of four mentally disabled Rhode Islanders who was seriously injured or killed by police officers in 2007-2009 made his case in federal court last week.

The Providence Journal reports that Judge William E. Smith heard arguments from lawyers from the City of Pawtucket and Max Wistow, the lawyer for the family of Jason Swift- the 30 year old man who was shot to death on February 12, 2008 by Officer Wallace H. Martin in the apartment of Swift’s mother on Lupine Street.

The City of Pawtucket is asking the Judge to dismiss the lawsuit on the theory that the plaintiff is unable to show that the city’s failure to train and supervise its police officers in properly dealing with mentally disabled people such as Swift rose to the level of “deliberate indifference.”

Max Wistow, the family’s lawyer, disagreed. He cited a police manual that mentioned “grave consequences” if officers didn’t take care in dealing with emotionally disturbed people and said even if no one had been shot in the city before in such a situation, it’s happened enough times around the country that a responsible department would have taken steps to train its staff.

He also cited a deposition from Chief George L. Kelley III, in which Kelley said the department wasn’t going to examine the case for possible discipline until the civil case ended, and possibly even wait until any appeals were resolved.

Wistow said that could take years and was evidence of the department’s indifference to the seriousness of the issue. He compared it to a hospital with a doctor whose patient died under his care. It would not wait years until the malpractice suit was over to examine the case, he said.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of police brutality in Rhode Island or Massachusetts, contact a lawyer today.

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