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Originally published Saturday, September 22, 2012 at 5:16 PM

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Family of mentally ill man who died after police allegedly used Tasers on him files suit

The family of a mentally ill Tukwila man who died in June after calling police to his house, where officers allegedly used Tasers on him, has filed a lawsuit seeking at least $15 million in damages.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The family of a mentally ill Tukwila man who died in June after calling police to his house, where officers allegedly used Tasers on him, has filed a lawsuit seeking at least $15 million in damages from the city.

"They never tried to talk to him. ... As far as we're concerned, they did everything wrong at every juncture," the family's attorney, Seattle lawyer Lee Rousso, said of the Tukwila officers who responded to Victor Duffy Jr.'s bizarre, garbled 911 call on June 30.

The 25-year-old called 911 during a fight with his younger sister, despite being deathly afraid of police after he had been badly beaten by Tukwila officers in 2006, Rousso said.

He criticized the department for sending at least six officers to the Duffy residence in the 5600 block of South 150th Place, even though Duffy Jr. had not called to report a crime. The officers knew or should have known that the young man was suffering from some kind of mental-health crisis, he said.

Tukwila police spokesman Mike Murphy said the case is still open because investigators are awaiting a toxicology report from the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab.

While unaware that a lawsuit had been filed in King County Superior Court, Murphy said as a matter of policy, he could not comment on pending litigation.

At the time, the department issued a news release that said officers responded to the home where "a male with a history of mental illness was being combative with his family and making strange statements to the 911 operator." It said that after Duffy Jr. was taken into custody, he began to experience "breathing difficulties" while he was in an ambulance and died later at Harborview Medical Center.

An inquest into Duffy Jr.'s death has not been ordered because the case has not yet been sent to the King County Prosecutor's Office for review, said spokesman Dan Donohoe.

According to the King County Medical Examiner's Office, Duffy Jr.'s cause of death was ruled "sudden death associated with the manifestations of excited delirium and following physical restraint." His manner of death is undetermined, a death investigator said.

Duffy Jr.'s mother, sister and stepfather were inside the house when officers arrived, according to the lawsuit. His mother, Deann Mills, asked her son to put down a golf club he was holding and he did; he also calmly complied with the officers' orders, the suit says.

Officers asked Mills, her daughter Patrice Brown and Mills' common-law husband Ronald Fortson to wait outside.

Before leaving, Mills "asked the Tukwila Police officers to refrain from using a Taser on her son as she knew that he would be extremely frightened under the circumstances," the lawsuit says.

Once outside, Duffy Jr.'s family members heard "the unmistakable crackle of a Taser device" and other sounds of a struggle, according to the suit. Duffy Jr. "ran for his life," and vaulted full speed off the front porch, fracturing his right leg, the suit says. Despite "his obvious injuries," the officers again used a Taser on Duffy Jr., it says.

Medics were called and Duffy Jr. was put inside an emergency medical vehicle for about 40 minutes; during that time, his relatives weren't allowed to see or speak to him, the lawsuit says.

One officer told Mills her son was "sleeping" — but according to the lawsuit, Duffy Jr. "was already dead at this time and the Tukwila Police were concealing this fact from the family."

In March 2006, Duffy Jr. had knocked over a garbage can while walking home from a school dance, prompting a neighbor to call police, according to the lawsuit and an interview with Mills at the time of her son's death. Tukwila police responded to a malicious-mischief report, escalated the incident into a confrontation and severely beat Duffy Jr. over a five-hour period, the suit says.

Duffy Jr. "suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the beating he suffered in 2006," and he was "left with a crippling fear of the Tukwila police," according to the lawsuit.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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