Tawon Boyd’s Family Files Wrongful Death Suit Against Baltimore County Police

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Tawon Boyd, hospitalized before his death. Photo courtesy of the Law Office of A. Dwight Pettit, PA.

Family members of the late Tawon Boyd are suing five police officers, a paramedic and an EMT from Baltimore County in connection with Boyd’s in-custody death one year ago.

The lawsuit accuses the county police officers of constitutional violations – Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, specifically – for allegedly assaulting, battering and using excessive force against Boyd, and holds them liable for his death.

It also alleges the medic and EMT listed in the suit violated Maryland law by injecting Boyd with Haldol, an antipsychotic that they argue led to cardiac arrest and multiple-organ failure. Furthermore, it accuses former Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson of not properly training or supervising his officers.

Boyd’s mother and fiancée, who filed the suit, are seeking $10 million in punitive damages and another $5 million in compensatory damages.

“We are certainly hoping that the county police department and the county executive do something substantive to curb the way these officers are treating brown and black individuals, particularly those with mental health or medical problems,” said Latoya Francis-Williams, an attorney for the family, on a phone call. She added that police are “not correcting the problem, but deflecting.”

On Sept. 18, 2016, county police officers responded to Boyd’s home on Akin Circle in Middle River. They later said in an incident report that he and his fiancée were screaming at one another, and that when they tried to engage Boyd he was “confused and paranoid.” They maintained he ran up to their squad cars and fought with as many as five officers trying to subdue him.

After officers sat down on Boyd’s body, medics arrived and administered Haldol, after which he “became so calm that Officer Bowman [one of the five being sued] asked a medic to check the suspect for a pulse,” police wrote in their report on the incident.

Police noted in their report that they used force against Boyd. In addition to sitting on him, officers punched Boyd in the face twice.

He was hospitalized for four days before he died, leaving behind his three-year old daughter and fiancée.

Boyd’s family is arguing that the officers also kicked him, and that their kicking and punching amounted to deadly force and caused “severe injuries” contributing to his death. Their suit pushes back against officers’ claims that Boyd was attacking them, maintaining Boyd “did not strike any officer, attempt to strike any officer or use any force against any officer whatsoever,” and was merely protecting his body from their blows.

As for the antipsychotic he was given, attorneys say its use violated state law because it was administered while he was “suffering from excited delirium,” a prohibited condition for using the drug. Boyd went unresponsive after it was administered. His family’s lawyers say his resulting multiple-organ failure and cardiac arrest contributed to his death, and that police and emergency responders are therefore responsible.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled differently in December, declaring it an accidental death.

“It is unlikely that restraint by law enforcement caused or significantly contributed to his death based on the reported circumstances and timeline of the restraint,” examiners wrote in their autopsy report. “Since his death most likely followed from complications of intoxication with a drug (N-Ethylpentylone), the manner of death is best certified as accident.”

Boyd’s fiancée had told a 911 dispatcher on the phone that he was acting “crazy” and was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. The N-Ethylpentylone found in Boyd’s system indicated he had also taken bath salts, a synthetic, mind-altering substance tied to the hysteric zombie incidents of years past in Florida, in which users allegedly bit victims and struggled violently with police.

Boyd’s family’s wrongful death suit points to “numerous examples” of county police using excessive force, committing constitutional violations and “shooting and brutally beating citizens to near death or death.” One recent memorable case that it mentions is the death of Korryn Gaines, who was shot and killed by police during a standoff about one month before Boyd’s death.

Asked for comment on the wrongful death suit, a police department spokesperson wrote in an email, “The Department cannot comment on any pending litigation.”

As of Friday, none of the seven county personnel being sued had attorneys listed next to their names in court records.

Ethan McLeod
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