Mother sues Multnomah County, deputies in son’s death

From The Oregonian – December 8, 1998 – not available elsewhere online

The mother of a mentally ill California man who died in jail last year after a struggle with deputies is suing Multnomah County and four deputies in federal court. The suit says the deputies kicked and punched the man instead of keeping him safe.

Bonnie Flowers of Los Angeles filed the complaint, which asks for $1 million, in U.S. District Court in Portland on the basis of federal civil rights laws. Flowers is the mother of Reginald Gafford, a transient, and represents his estate. The suit charges the county and deputies with wrongfully causing Gafford’s death and with assaulting him.

A Multnomah County grand jury declined a year ago to indict any of those involved.

Corrections deputies tied up Gafford and placed him on a backboard, but Dr. Ed Wilson, a deputy state medical examiner, said at the time that those actions did not cause Gafford’s death.

Wilson said the 29-year-old man was an “agitated, combative, psychotic jail inmate” who died of cardiopulmonary arrest.

Medical examiners later cited Gafford’s sudden death in custody as similar to cases elsewhere, including the death of Richard ” Dickie ” Dow. Dow, 37, a paranoid schizophrenic, collapsed on North Fenwick Avenue on Oct. 19 as Portland police restrained him after he struggled with an officer.

Both Gafford and Dow had a history of mental illness and suddenly stopped breathing after a struggle with officers.

Court papers say Gafford was on his way from Seattle to Los Angeles by bus when he told a security officer at the Greyhound depot in Portland that he was wanted on warrants. He said the television told him to turn himself in. Gafford became agitated on the way to the detention center. A jail nurse telephoned Flowers and learned that Gafford had been hospitalized earlier in the year for mental illness.

It took three officers to put Gafford in a separation cell at the Justice Center jail, but when Gafford later appeared calm, a deputy tried to move him to another cell. Gafford resisted, then resisted returning to the separation cell, bracing himself against the door. A deputy kicked him in the chest to knock him through the doorway.

The suit says the same deputy punched Gafford in the mouth. A sergeant, the suit says, then used a choke hold on Gafford while a deputy put hobbles on Gafford’s legs. Deputies hooked the leg restraints and handcuffs together, and a nurse gave him an injection to calm him. Gafford was then placed on a backboard restraint and, by procedure, a nurse checked the restraints. She discovered Gafford was not breathing.

Named as defendants with the county are Sgt. Ron Bishop and Sgt. Merton Kendall, and deputies Jeff Nystrom and Sean L. Croft. The suit asks $250,000 for Gafford’s suffering and pain, $250,000 for loss of companionship, $250,000 to make up for loss of his estate and $250,000 punitive damages.