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Minneapolis settles police misconduct case for $3 million

The settlement marks the second-largest police payout in the department's history.
The settlement marks the second-largest police payout in the department's history.

The Minneapolis City Council approved a $3 million payout Friday to the family of David Cornelius Smith, a 28-year-old who died in 2010 after an incident with police officers at the downtown YMCA.

Following Smith's death, his family filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging the officers used excessive force and suffocated Smith while trying to bring him under control. The city will pay Smith's family $1.1 million from the settlement; their attorneys, Gaskins Bennett Birrell & Schupp, will receive $1.9 in legal fees. The case marks the second-largest police payout in the city's history.

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"It's a first step in the healing process for the family, but it's a number that shows that David Smith's constitutional rights were violated," says Jeff Storms, attorney for Smith's family.

The case stems from Smith's Sept. 9, 2010 arrest. Smith was acting erratically at the YMCA's basketball court, throwing a ball around aggressively. A gym employee called the police, and officers Timothy Gorman and Timothy Callahan responded.

The officers struggled to subdue Smith, Tasering him multiple times. After the officers held him down for several minutes, Smith stopped breathing. He died in the hospital Sept. 17. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

According to the lawsuit, the officers detained Smith using a controversial tactic called "prone restraint," a hold in which an officer applies pressure to the individual's back, making it difficult for the person to take in oxygen. Smith also suffered from Schizoaffective disorder, which is why he was acting strangely that day, the suit alleges.

After the incident, then-police chief Tim Dolan denied that the officers used excessive force. The city filed for an order of summary judgement earlier this year, asking that all counts be dismissed. In April, Judge Susan Richard Nelson announced she would deny the claim, and that a trial should be set for September or October.

Storms says most police have already received training on how to avoid high-risk holds, but he hopes the case will raise more awareness.

"I think there really shouldn't be an officer left in Minneapolis or Minnesota who doesn't understand the risks associated with positional or mechanical asphyxiation," he says.


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