Police wrongful death lawsuit by mother can proceed
PATERSON — The mother of a man who died by suicide about 21 months after he was assaulted by two Paterson cops at a hospital emergency room can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, a federal judge ruled this week.
The mother, Marie Casciano, essentially will replace her son, Andrew, as the plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit he filed against the Paterson police department long before his death. She also will pursue additional wrongful death and survivor claims against the city because of the suicide, under the ruling.
Paterson had sought to block the mother’s bid for the wrongful death claim on the argument that Casciano’s death by suicide in December 2019 was “an independent act” from the attack on him by two Paterson cops in March 2018.
The judge, Mark Falk, issued an opinion on Tuesday that said it may be difficult for Casciano to prove that her son’s suicide was caused by the officers’ attack. But he also said that such a determination was something a jury should decide.
Whether Plaintiff will be able to demonstrate causation between the assault and the suicide and prevail on the claims remains to be seen,” Falk wrote. “While it is conceivable that a finder of fact may conclude that the suicide is too attenuated to the assault for the latter to be the cause, Plaintiff’s claims are not necessarily futile.”
In his suicide note, which is part of the court files, Casciano wrote that he killed himself “because the lawsuit was too much of an embarrassment.”
The two officers convicted for their roles in the assault on Casciano — Ruben McAusland and Roger Then — were among eight arrested by the FBI in 2018 and 2019 on various charges. Five rogue cops have pleaded guilty to engaging in illegal shakedowns, while similar charges are pending against a sixth.
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McAusland is in federal prison after admitting that he assaulted Casciano, and Then completed his six-month sentence after he pleaded guilty to recording a video of the attack. The now-former officers were with Casciano in the emergency room in 2018 after he made an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
The FBI had been investigating McAusland for on-duty drug dealing — which he eventually admitted — long before the hospital incident. FBI agents learned of the ER assault when they seized McAusland’s cellphone while arresting him on the drug charges and found on the phone a video of the attack that Then had sent him.
Casciano had filed a legal notice telling the city he might sue over the hospital attack more than a month before the United States Attorney’s Office announced the criminal charges against McAusland and Then.
City officials declined to comment on Falk’s ruling this week.
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org