After wandering away from the Montana Veterans’ Home in Columbia Falls last June, a 77-year-old Korean War veteran suffering from severe Alzheimer’s disease was tased by police, fell face-first to the pavement where he struck his head and died later due to injuries from the fall, according to a lawsuit filed last month by a family member representing his estate.
Tamara Downen of Columbia Falls filed the lawsuit on April 5 in Helena’s Lewis and Clark County District Court, claiming that her grandfather, Stanley Downen, died as a result of negligence by the Montana Veterans’ Home, Columbia Falls Police Department and Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
The lawsuit states that on May 31, 2012, Stanley Downen was admitted as a resident to the veterans’ home, described as a “nursing facility that includes a 15-bed Alzheimer’s unit.” Downen had a “history of behavioral issues and advanced dementia resulting from severe progressive Alzheimer’s disease.”
The next day on June 1, according to the lawsuit, Downen wandered outside of the facility, to the entrance gates and a nearby baseball field. Staff members were “unable to stop him from leaving the premises and instead agitated Stanley and escalated the situation.”
With Downen resisting efforts to direct him back to the home, the suit asserts, staff members called 911 to request police assistance. Officers made verbal attempts to persuade Downen to move to a grassy area, but when he refused to cooperate they tased him, according to the family’s complaint.
“As a result of being tased,” the complaint states, “Stanley fell face-first onto the pavement and struck his head.”
An ambulance arrived to find Downen “handcuffed and lying face down in the middle of the street.” Care providers took note of abrasions on his hands and forehead, along with “extensive injuries over his left eye with swelling and an abrasion on his scalp.” He was taken to the Kalispell Regional Medical Center emergency room for evaluation.
“Nursing staff from the Montana Veterans’ Home called to inform Stanley’s family that he had tripped and fallen while running, and that he was taken to the hospital,” the lawsuit states. “It was not until two days later that Stanley’s family discovered Stanley had been tased by the police.”
“Stanley died 23 days later, on June 24, 2012, due to the injuries caused by his fall on June 1, 2012.”
In addition to negligence, the complaint puts forth counts of assault, battery, civil rights violations through the use of excessive force, medical malpractice and wrongful death. It requests a jury trial and damages to be determined at the trial.
The damages include those for survivorship, medical expenses, funeral expenses, compensation for pain and suffering endured by both Downen and the plaintiff, attorney’s fees, and punitive damages stemming from the Columbia Falls Police Department “using excessive force on a 77-year-old Alzheimer patient.”
According to an obituary, Downen was born in Westby in 1934 and his family moved to Columbia Falls in 1941. He served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War and received a National Defense Service medal in honor of serving his country. He spent 30 years as an ironworker and retired from the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company in 1998. Along with other retired ironworkers, he helped build several Flathead Valley playgrounds, including at Marantette Park and local schools.
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