Wrongful-death lawsuit targets Salem officers

From the Salem Statesman Journal, April 17, 2010

Family of man who died after a Taser hit seeks redress in federal court

Gregory Rold

Gregory Rold

The family of a Salem man who died after he was hit with a Taser by Salem police has filed a federal civil-rights and wrongful-death lawsuit.

Gregory Angar Rold, 30 died May 23, 2009, after he was taken into custody by Salem police. The family’s lawsuit asks for about $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $4.5 million in punitive damages.

The lawsuit claims that Rold’s civil rights were violated, that police officers were negligent in causing Rold’s death and excessive force was used against Rold.

The lawsuit names the city of Salem and four police officers: Officer Jacob Pratt, Cpl. Daron Mumey, Officer Adam Waite and Cpl. Eric Brown, as well as 10 other city employees.

A Marion County grand jury found that the Salem police officers were justified in using physical force while attempting to arrest Rold.

The Oregon medical examiner found that Rold died of causes related to cardiac arrhythmia and that his death was accidental.

Salem Police Department declined to comment on the filing of the case, citing pending litigation, said spokesman Lt. Dave Okada.

The May incident stemmed from a trespassing complaint that Salem police received regarding Rold in the 1200 block of Royvonne Avenue SE in an apartment complex.

The Marion County District Attorney’s Office said police contacted Rold and told him he was under arrest. Rold refused to comply and struggled with police. Police used batons and Tasers in the struggle. Rold was taken into custody and shortly after, stopped breathing. Rold was taken by paramedics to Salem Hospital, where he died.

The Oregon State Police and Keizer Police Department investigated the case, under the protocols of Senate Bill 111.

On June 19, a Marion County grand jury found that the Salem police officers were justified in using physical force while attempting to arrest Rold.

The grand jury heard from 15 witnesses, including the four police officers, investigators, two civilian witnesses and Rold’s mother and brother Siplus Ruba.

Oregon State Medical Examiner Dr. Karen Gunson determined that Rold’s cause of death was sudden cardiac arrhythmia due to hypertensive atheroselerotic heart disease, exertion and positional asphyxiation, as well as the contributing factor of obesity. Gunson ruled that the manner of death was accidental.

Among the allegations, the complaint states that Rold’s civil rights were violated because of excessive force by police and that the officers were negligent in failing to recognize that Rold had stopped breathing. The lawsuit also alleges that Rold’s death could have been prevented if the city was not negligent in failing to inform the officers at the scene of Rold’s limited English skills and his mental illness.

Rold’s brother, Siplus Ruba, said the family is still grieving over the loss of his brother, whose nickname was “Monny,” a Chuukese childhood nickname for Gregory that stemmed from his affinity to play with campfire ashes and dirt. Rold had dual citizenship of the U.S. and Micronesia.

Ruba said his brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and on disability. The family said he was not trespassing at the apartment, which was his mother’s, and was not violent when police arrived.

“We’d much rather have Monny back and the whole thing dropped,” said Steve Vian, Rold’s brother-in-law.

Vian said the family decided to file the lawsuit as a way of honoring Rold’s memory. Gregory Rold was the youngest in a family of five brothers and three sisters.

At least 300 people came to his funeral service, from places as far away as Seattle, Hawaii and Micronesia.

“We get together all the time, for family barbecues,” Vian said. “Without him there, it seems like a huge thing is missing.”

The lawsuit is filed under the name of Rold’s mother, Felisa Rold. Felisa Rold, speaking through her son Ruba as a translator, said she felt “broken.”

Felisa Rold still felt the same feelings of grief now as she did on the day her youngest son died.

“Nothing will ever change,” she said.

Attorney Todd Peterson of Portland is representing the Rold family. The lawsuit was filed on March 31 in Eugene federal court.

READ – Gregory Rold Complaint (Rold v. City of Salem) (PDF 7.5 MB)