Black man lying in hospital bed with red blotches all over his face with a breathing machine and neck brace

OCTOBER 12, 2017 – COLUMBUS, OHIO: The Estate of Jaron Ben-Rasu Thomas has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Columbus Division of Police. The lawsuit brings civil rights, wrongful death, survivor and loss of consortium claims. The family seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief for the violations of the Fourth Amendment rights of Thomas to be free from excessive use of force and his common-law right to be free from reckless conduct directly and proximately causing his pain, emotional distress and death. The lawsuit was filed on October 12, 2017 in the Southern District of the United States Federal District Court. 

On the night of January 14, 2017, Columbus Division of Police Officers, who were inadequately trained and supervised by the City of Columbus, Ohio and Columbus Division of Police in handling individuals suffering from a mental health crisis and/or excited delirium syndrome, responded to Thomas’ 911 call for emergency assistance. Thomas had called seeking help after ingesting cocaine and suffering from hallucinations. In response to Thomas’ call for help, officers escalated the encounter by deciding to handcuff him and punch, body slam, knee, choke-hold, and hobble strap him into submission which caused him to lose consciousness and subsequently caused his death nine days later.

Although Thomas was unarmed and not suspected of committing any crime, officers claimed that he repeatedly disobeyed orders to comply and that they were “in fear that he was reaching for a weapon.” In his encounter with the Columbus Division of Police, Thomas suffered severe brain damage, head and body contusions, several broken ribs, a blood clot near his sternum, and other injuries. Officers admitted to delivering two “closed fist strikes” to the right side of Thomas’ head and a “right-knee strike” to the right side of Thomas’ body, although witness testimony and physical evidence contradict the officers’ reported use of force. 

The Franklin County Ohio Coroner’s Report designated the cause of Thomas’ death to be anoxic encephalopathy as a consequence of cardiac arrest as a consequence of cocaine induced delirium, characterized that death as an accident, and attributed his injury to cocaine toxicity with features of excited delirium. Mr. Thomas died due to excited delirium syndrome which, in response to the use of excessive force by police officers, pumped so much adrenalin into his body that it functioned as the equivalent of a heart attack or respiratory failure. 

Individuals suffering from excited delirium syndrome typically exhibit bizarre behavior, hyperactivity, and confusion. While some excessive force may not be fatal to an average person, an individual suffering from excited delirium syndrome is vulnerable to death from such excessive force. Although the Columbus Division of Police claims to have a Crisis Intervention Team to deal with individuals suffering from a mental health crisis, no such officers were called on to assist Thomas. The officers who did respond did not comply with Crisis Intervention Team guidelines for dealing with individuals suffering from a mental health crisis. 

All of the actions of the officers who responded to Jaron Thomas’ call for help were found to be within policy. The Columbus Division of Police authorized the use of excessive force against a citizen who called for help, and failed to train and supervise its officers in how to safely interact with and de-escalate, rather than aggravate, individuals suffering from a mental health crisis and/or excited delirium syndrome. These officers knew or should have known that their unreasonable use of excessive force on an individual suffering a mental health crisis and/or excited delirium syndrome could result in serious physical injuries and/or death. 

By failing to adopt policies, provide training, and/or effectively supervise implementation of those policies or training to avoid the use of an objectively unreasonable amount of force in light of the facts and under the circumstances, the City of Columbus, Ohio violated Mr. Thomas’s rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and subsequently caused his death. As a result, three beautiful children have lost the love and care of their father, and the family will pursue justice and accountability on his behalf to ensure that no other families have to endure such pain and tragedy.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Estate of Jaron Thomas by attorneys with Walton + Brown, LLP and Marshall & Forman LLC. A copy of the complaint can be found here

Walton + Brown, LLP. 
395 E. Broad St. Suite 200
Columbus, OH 43215
614-636-3476 (Office)
614-636-3453 (Fax)