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Boston Wrongful Death: Jury to Decide Whether Excessive Use Of Police Force or Drug Use Caused Man to Die

The Massachusetts wrongful death trial against a Lawrence cop and two State Police troopers over Alfonso Santana’s 2005 unexpected passing is scheduled to begin today. At issue, reports The Boston Globe, is whether Santana, 39, died from a police choke hold, cocaine intoxication, or another cause.

Santana was apprehended on October 19, 2005 by the three defendants, (former) Lawrence cop Mark Rivet, and Troopers Stephen R. Gondella and Mark F. Blanchard. The three men, who were watching a suspected drug house on Forest Street in Lawrence, had approached Santana, who had just parked his car, and asked for his ID. The officers say that they restrained Santana when they saw him put a white object in his mouth.

Court records report that police pepper-sprayed Santana and hit his face during a struggle that lasted for several minutes. For most of the altercation, Gondella’s arm was “around Santana’s neck.” Police were eventually able to retrieve what proved to be “a small amount of cocaine.”

After Santana was handcuffed, police realized that Santana did not have a pulse and was not breathing. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Autopsy results from the state medical examiner’s office determined that Santana died from “acute cocaine intoxication” from an “acute and chronic substance abuse.” However, a pathologist for Santana’s family says that the toxicology tests that the medical examiner ordered found no cocaine in Santana’s urine.

Former Massachusetts medical examiner Gerald A. Feigin has said that in over 6,000 autopsies, there was never a case where he found cocaine in the blood but none in the urine. He is wondering whether someone planted cocaine in Santana’s blood specimen. Feigin has also said that he thinks that Santana may have died because he was choked too hard and for too long.

Excessive Use of Force
Excessive use of police force-whether unintentional or not-has been known to cause serious injuries, including death. Massachusetts police brutality is a violation of one’s rights and can be grounds for a Boston injury lawsuit. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that police cannot abuse their power by using excessive force and the victims fail to report such incidents.

Police sued over death in ’05 arrest, Boston.com, August 20, 2010
Read the Civil Action, US Courts, July 16, 2010 (PDF)

Related Web Resources:
Lawrence Police Department

Massachusetts State Police