Suit focuses on police practice of hogtying

The mother of a man in a 'minimally conscious' state after a combative arrest blames the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Vernon police.

January 22, 2012|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

Drivers passing through Vernon were confronted by an unusual sight on the afternoon of Dec. 29, 2008: a naked man, running down Grande Vista Avenue in the middle of traffic, babbling and punching cars.

Soon after, the man was comatose after a confrontation with Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and Vernon police.

Three years later, Parrish Batchan remains at a rehabilitation center in Van Nuys in what the attorneys representing his family call a "minimally conscious" state. He can open his eyes but can't speak or move.

And now, Batchan's mother and the two law enforcement agencies are preparing to debate in court whether Batchan's near-death was caused by a controversial restraint practice known as total appendage restraint procedure, or hogtying.

There has been much debate in law enforcement about hogtying, and it has been the subject of several lawsuits. The Los Angeles Police Department banned the procedure altogether after a lawsuit in the late 1990s, although it still allows hobbling of suspects' feet.

Batchan was a ticket scalper from Arizona with a history of schizophrenia; he had disappeared from his home in Phoenix and ended up in the industrial outskirts of Los Angeles.

Deputies and officers on the scene said Batchan jumped on a van and broke the windshield with his fist, ignored their orders, and advanced on deputies, throwing punches in the air. Officers and deputies used a stun gun on Batchan multiple times, including once after he was on the ground. Deputies then handcuffed him and hobbled his legs.

When Batchan continued to struggle, they clipped his hobbled legs to his cuffed hands behind him.

While he was restrained, Batchan stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest. Paramedics revived his heart, but he never fully recovered consciousness.

Attorneys for Barbara Batchan argue that her son's condition was caused by a phenomenon known as positional asphyxia. They claim that Batchan should not have been hogtied after he had been shot with a stun gun and that officers and deputies left him on his stomach and failed to monitor his breathing. Such actions would violate department policy.

They also allege that Batchan's breathing was further restricted when a deputy placed his full weight on Batchan's back while he was handcuffed.

"The conduct of the defendant officers in hogtying a naked and helpless man who had just been tasered and who was not a threat to anyone, and allowing him to stop breathing in front of them is inexcusable," the plaintiff's trial brief said.

The defendants argue that they were dealing with an "irrational, combative suspect" who did not respond to commands from law enforcement and could have presented a danger to bystanders.

The defendants contend that the officers and deputies followed appropriate procedures and that Batchan's near-death was the result of a condition known as excited delirium. The condition has been blamed for in-custody deaths, particularly of suspects who were high on stimulants. (One deputy said he believed Batchan to be on PCP, but later tests showed that he had no drugs in his system).

They also contest the plaintiff's account of what happened after Batchan was hogtied. Deputies said they rolled Batchan on his side, as department policy dictates, and monitored his breathing until paramedics arrived.

The debate over hogtying has played out in court before. The Sheriff's Department created a more restrictive policy on total appendage restraint procedure in 1999 as the department faced a lawsuit over the death of Dwayne Nelson, a hogtied suspect. In 2002, a jury awarded $1.3 million in damages to Nelson's parents.

Batchan's mother is seeking to recover $1 million that she said her son's medical care has cost to date, as well as future medical costs of up to $731,393 a year, along with other damages.

Benjamin Schonbrun, Batchan's attorney, declined to comment because of the pending trial. Lt. Jerry Winegar with the Vernon Police Department also declined to discuss the case.

Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore declined to discuss specifics but said the department is confident of prevailing at trial.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. Nobody wants to see this happen," he said, but added. "We look forward to telling our story [in court]."

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