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Columbia Falls seeks dismissal of stun-gun lawsuit

HELENA (AP) — Columbia Falls police officers were justified in using a stun gun on a 77-year-old Alzheimer's patient who had wandered away from the Montana Veterans' Home and died a few weeks after the confrontation, an attorney for the city said in a court filing Tuesday.

The filing by attorney William L. Crowley is in response to a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of Stanley Downen, who died three weeks after he fell and struck his head on the pavement in the encounter with two police officers on June 1, 2012.

Downen's family accuses the veterans' home and police of negligence, assault, battery, malpractice and civil rights violations.

The lawsuit says Downen had advanced dementia from Alzheimer's and he had been admitted into the veterans' home on May 31, 2012. The next day, the veterans' home's staff called police when they were unable to stop him from leaving the grounds.

Downen refused to cooperate with the officers, and one of them used a stun gun on him. He fell and struck his head on the pavement.

Veterans' home nursing staff told Downen's family initially that he had tripped and fallen while running, and the family only learned of the encounter with police two days later, the lawsuit said.

Downen died on June 24.

The police department admits one of its officers used a stun gun on Downen, but the officers acted within their duties, Crowley said in his response. Downen's use of profanity and his threatening to throw rocks at the officers justified the response, Crowley wrote.

"Mr. Downen's own negligent acts or omissions caused the damage or injuries to himself and his heirs," Crowley wrote in the filing.

The two responding officers ordered Downen to drop the rocks he was holding and Downen refused, Crowley wrote.

One of the officers used the stun gun when Downen drew his arm back as though to throw a rock, he wrote.

Nothing the officers did was motivated by evil intent or reckless indifference to Downen's rights, Crowley said.

The city is asking a federal judge to dismiss the case.

Downen served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He was an ironworker for nearly 30 years before retiring in 1998.

 

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