A Washington jury sided with the two Issaquah police officers who were accused of using excessive force in restraining an Asian senior with Alzheimer’s disease, causing a neck injury that eventually led to his death in 2018.
A seven-member federal jury in the U.S. District Court in Seattle unanimously sided with officers Michael Lucht and Kylen Whittom on June 16 on a 2019 lawsuit filed by the wife of the man with Alzheimer’s disease.
Wangsheng Leng, 66, underwent surgery for spinal cord decompression after he went limp when officers investigating a domestic dispute on Aug. 5, 2018, pushed him onto a couch by his neck and handcuffed him. Leng suffered a neck injury and died a month after the incident.
Leng’s wife, Liping Yang, filed a lawsuit on April 3, 2019, accusing Officers Lucht and Whittom of using excessive force during the incident.
The Issaquah officers forced their way into Leng’s home after a neighbor called in a noise complaint, which they believed was a possible domestic violence call. It was only after Leng was placed in handcuffs that they learned he was suffering from an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Yang, Leng did not speak English well, and would end up getting lost when he would leave their home. When she tried to stop him from leaving, he would start becoming aggressive.
The King County Medical Examiner ruled Leng’s death a homicide. His death was the result of complications from a “blunt force injury to the neck,” which “occurred in circumstances involving the use of physical restraint.”
However, the defense attorney argued that Leng’s health conditions were unknown to the officers. They claimed that Leng’s frailty and health problems contributed to his death.
“The City of Issaquah is pleased the federal jury unanimously found the actions of its police officers were reasonable, necessary and lawful,” the officers’ attorneys, Shannon Ragonesi and Brian Augenthaler of the Seattle firm Keating McCormick Bucklin, reportedly said in a joint statement.
“The facts proved, and the jury found, there was no excessive police force used in this case,” they added. “Mr. Leng’s injury and eventual death would not have happened if he did not have serious, preexisting medical conditions that were completely unknown to the officers at the time the physical force was applied.”
David Owens, one of Yang’s attorneys, said the verdict was “more than disappointing” and that it was “a heartbreaking reminder that injustice perpetuates injustice.”
“It is a reminder that our court system can, and does, re-traumatize innocent people subject to arbitrary violence by the government,” Owens reportedly wrote in an email. “The verdict is not only wrong, it is trauma that our client and their family did not deserve and did not choose.”
“An innocent man is dead, killed by the police, and left with little recourse,” he added. “This should not be the case. So, while standing up to the court-sanctioned culture of violence at the core of policing is a difficult but not impossible task, the fight continues.”