Suffolk County will pay $1.85 million to the mother of an autistic man who died in 2013 after police tased, pepper-sprayed, and lay on top of him while he was handcuffed at the Middle Island group home where he lived.
Dainell Simmons, 29, described as autistic and nonverbal in the federal lawsuit, was at the Maryhaven Center for Hope group home when staff called 911 because of his “allegedly violent behavior.”
He had calmed down by the time police arrived. But the lawsuit said Suffolk police used “unreasonable and excessive force on Simmons, including unnecessarily deploying Taser devices at him, unnecessarily pepper-spraying him, and ultimately causing his death by applying weight to his torso while he was rear-handcuffed, leg cuffed, and in a prone position.”
Simmons died by asphyxiation, according to the lawsuit.
The Suffolk Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved the settlement, chairwoman Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack) said after a closed-door meeting with County Attorney Dennis Brown. Brown declined to comment on the case.
The lawsuit was filed by Simmons’ mother, Glynice Simmons of Nassau County.
“Although no amount of money could make up for the tragic loss of this young man’s life or the heartache his mother has been through, we are grateful the county essentially acknowledged that proper police procedures were not followed in this case,” said her Manhattan civil rights attorney Brett Klein.
Police at the time said he kicked and bit three officers as they tried to subdue him.
The county in legal motions had denied that the officers used excessive force or violated Simmons rights. It said the injuries to Dainell Simmons “were caused by the plaintiff’s own culpable and/or negligent conduct.”
Simmons was upset when some residents of the group home came back with funnel cake and he didn’t have any, Klein said. Staff called 911, but Simmons had calmed down by the time police arrived. Despite that, police wanted to take him to a psychiatric ward for evaluation, according to Klein. When Simmons got upset, police attempted to tase him 13 times, Klein said.
A grand jury declined to indict the officers and there was no disciplinary action taken against the officers, Klein said.
The suit, which named Suffolk County and 12 officers, accused the county of inadequate training with regard to use of force and dealing with individuals in a state of distress, including those with autism.