Man with mental illness claims Portland officer knelt on his throat, seeks $110,000

From The Oregonian, October 10, 2014

A mentally distressed man who claimed a Portland police officer knelt on his throat after he showed up at the Providence Portland Medical Center campus to see his counselor has filed a $110,881 lawsuit against the city and the officer.

Robert Seeger's attorney Ben HaileIn his suit filed this week in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Robert Seeger faults the Portland Police Bureau for allegedly failing to properly train Officer Charles Duane how to deal with people in mental crisis.

The city attorney’s office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Seeger’s suit states that Seeger had shown up at the Providence Mental Health Outpatient Clinic at Northeast Hoyt Street and 52nd Avenue in mental distress on Jan. 2, 2013. The clinic’s director called Portland police, telling them that Seeger was at risk of hurting himself and needed a police escort to the hospital’s emergency room, which was about a block away, the suit states.

The suit says that Duane didn’t explain why he was there or what he was going to do when he approached Seeger, who was sitting down in a chair in a conference room shaking and breathing heavily with his arms wrapped around him. He was wearing sunglasses and a hoody was pulled over his head, according to the suit.

The suit states that Duane asked Seeger if he was ready to go, and when the officer got no response, Duane waved his hand in front of Seeger’s face. Duane and fellow officer Joseph Welp lifted Seeger from the chair and when Duane tried to push Seeger over a table and handcuff him, Seeger began to struggle, according to the suit.

“Mr. Seeger was scared and confused about why he was being physically restrained,” the suit states.

The suit claims that while Seeger was on his back and handcuffed, Duane knelt on Seeger’s throat.

“Seeger said clearly enough for everyone in the room to hear, ‘I can’t breathe,’” reads the suit. “Officer Duane responded with either, ‘Good, I hope you can’t,’ or ‘I hope you pass out.’”

Seeger suffered a swollen and bruised face, a swollen knee, an injured finger and ongoing back pain, according to the suit.

The suit also states that Seeger gets more anxious around police now than he had before the incident. He also was afraid to access mental-health services for about one year following the incident.

The suit notes that in 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice released a civil rights investigation that found that Portland police engaged in a “pattern or practice” of excessive force when encountering mentally ill people or people that officers thought had a mental illness. That led to a list of reforms — negotiated between the Justice Department and the city — that were approved by a federal judge in August 2014.

The suit seeks $110,000 for physical pain and emotional distress, and $881 in emergency-room costs. Portland attorney Benjamin Haile is representing Seeger.