City, police face wrongful death suit
The family of a man who died after being repeatedly shocked by a Taser has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against city police, alleging officers knew the man was mentally ill and did not pose a threat.
Viengxay Chommany, 42, had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He died on Aug. 4, 2019, two days after officers shocked him with a Taser and struck him in the head during a “wellness check” at his Winnipeg home, alleges a statement of claim by his wife, Ratsamy Chommany.
Defendants in the lawsuit include three unnamed constables, police Chief Danny Smyth and the City of Winnipeg.
In the two weeks prior to his death, Viengxay had been arguing with his wife about taking his medication, says the statement of claim. Approximately a week before Viengxay died, Ratsamy called 911, asking that police take Viengxay to the hospital after he had not taken his medication and became verbally abusive.
A female officer was able to “de-escalate the situation” and told Ratsamy she did not have the power to force Viengxay to go to the hospital because he “appeared to be acting appropriately,” says the statement of claim.
“By the end of the wellness check, Mr. Chommany and the police officer were singing together,” says the statement of claim.
A week later, on Aug. 2, Viengxay was again off his medication and “acting strangely,” prompting Ratsamy to call 911 a second time.
Responding police officers kicked the door in and after making sure Ratsamy was OK, yelled at Viengxay to sit down. At no time, the statement of claim alleges, did Viengxay assault or threaten Ratsamy, but he did try to block police from entering the home.
One of the constables continued to yell “aggressively” at Viengxay, after which he ran out the door without putting his shoes on.
Officers chased Viengxay and shocked him at least three times with a Taser and punched him in the face at least five times, the statement of claim alleges.
Viengxay became unresponsive and was resuscitated, but died in hospital two days later.
“The unnamed constables were aware that Mr. Chommany was not armed,” alleges the statement of claim. “They were or ought to have been aware, from the wellness check one week prior and the 911 report, that he had a mental disability. They had no reason to believe that he may be a threat to anybody.”
A Winnipeg Police Service spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba forwarded the results of its investigation to Manitoba Prosecution Services, which concluded no charges were warranted against the officers.
According to the investigation unit’s final report, Ratsamy, identified as Civilian Witness 1 (CW1) told a 911 operator Viengxay had assaulted her. A responding police officer, in notes provided to the investigation unit, said he saw Viengxay through a window assaulting Ratsamy. The officer alleged Viengxay threatened police while he was running away and at one point stopped and “assumed a fighting stance.”
Viengxay was shocked more than once with a Taser and after being taken to the ground, he continued to kick and punch at officers, the officer told investigators.
Viengxay was shocked a third time and continued to resist as officers shackled and handcuffed him, the officer said.
Viengxay “then stopped breathing and became unresponsive,” the officer said. Officers “quickly realized that (he) was now in a medical emergency state and no longer posed a threat, so the handcuffs and shackles were removed.”
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.