Suffolk police custody death: Family files multimillion-dollar lawsuit

Photo of Daniel McDonnell, 40, of Lindenhurst, is Photo of Daniel McDonnell, 40, of Lindenhurst, is shown in this file photo. McDonnell died while in Suffolk Police custody. Photo Credit: McDonnell family

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On the afternoon of May 5, 2011, Suffolk officers arrested and locked Daniel McDonnell, 40, of Lindenhurst into a cell in the First Precinct in West Babylon on a misdemeanor charge of criminal contempt.

He was charged with violating a restraining order resulting from a dispute with a neighbor. McDonnell, a carpenter, was supposed to spend the night in the cell and be arraigned in the morning.

Eighteen hours later, McDonnell's naked and bruised body was lying facedown and handcuffed in a pool of water on the floor, a spit sock hood on his head and face, after a fierce struggle in the 6-by-8-foot cell, according to a state Commission of Correction report of the incident.

On Monday, the police's performance in handling the detainee -- who suffered from bipolar disorder and who became unruly when denied his medication -- will be on trial in Brooklyn as a result of the multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit that McDonnell's wife, Danielle, filed in federal court against Suffolk County. "We're just glad that it's finally coming to trial," Danielle McDonnell said through her attorney.

Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Brown declined to comment, saying the office does not discuss pending suits.

McDonnell's family's attorney, Stephen Civardi of Freeport, said McDonnell was the victim of police brutality.

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He said McDonnell had been shot with a stun gun up to six times, kicked by officers wearing boots, held down by a riot shield pressed against his body, and pinned to the floor by the hands, feet and weight of up to 13 officers.

Officers told the Commission of Correction, which investigated the death, they were trying to restrain an increasingly unruly McDonnell and take him to a hospital.

They called an ambulance when he stopped moving during the struggle, but, Civardi said, none of the first-aid-trained officers immediately performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation or used a defibrillator to revive him.

The state Commission of Correction, which investigates deaths in prisons, jails, police lockups and detention centers, issued a scathing report last June that faulted the homicide investigators, medical examiner and Suffolk district attorney for not thoroughly investigating McDonnell's death.

The Albany agency ruled McDonnell's death a homicide that was "preventable" if he were subject to "properly supervised and controlled use of force and had he been afforded adequate emergency medical care."

It recommended police review the actions of the supervisor, sergeants and officers involved in the death and recommended the medical examiner re-examine the forensic evidence and review autopsy protocol.

And, it recommended the case be sent to the state attorney general for possible criminal investigation of the use of excessive force by officers.

The commission report's author, physician Phyllis Harrison-Ross, said further that Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota's office "failed to conduct any investigation of this incident even though it was ruled a homicide" or bring it before a grand jury to determine if the use of force was justified.

A spokesman for Spota called the report "inaccurate and baseless."

In depositions, two Suffolk internal affairs investigators said they determined the First Precinct officers did not handle McDonnell's medication properly, departed from proper procedure when deploying the Taser gun and violated rules and procedures for proper medical care and safety for a detainee.

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Court papers show that McDonnell told officers as he was placed in a cell that he was bipolar and needed medication every 12 hours, but that he did not have it with him.

He called his mother, who brought two bottles of medication to the precinct, but an officer who said they were not properly labeled told her police could not administer the meds, according to the papers. The officer assured Bridget McDonnell that he would be taken to a hospital if he wanted medication, the records show.

But that didn't happen, and one internal affairs investigator testified the officers' actions regarding his medication violate police policy.

About 7 a.m. on May 6, 2011, McDonnell began taking off clothes, pacing and sweating profusely, records show.

The commission's report showed he had been crying out for his medication through the night and shortly after 7 a.m. he began stuffing clothes into his toilet, which caused flooding.

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Officers responded to the cell and tried to talk to him but didn't know his name or psychiatric condition and were unable to calm him down.

McDonnell sat in front of the toilet, his back to the officers, and seemed to ignore commands to put his hands behind his back, records show. That's when one officer launched the Taser.

He was shot up to six times in all, Civardi said. The commission said he was shot at least twice.One Internal Affairs Bureau investigator testified that the officer believed to have taken the first shot, which records show was done while McDonnell faced a back wall, did not have current Taser training.

Up to 13 officers helped restrain McDonnell, each grabbing body parts.

McDonnell was pronounced dead at 8:38 a.m. at a local hospital, reports said.

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