$10 million. That’s how much a Paterson family is claiming in a new wrongful death suit filed against the city’s police. And the alarming story behind the suit is raising new questions about police power in the wake of the Ferguson crisis in Missouri.
A Troubling Story
When 39-year-old Saulo Del Rosario locked himself in his Paterson bedroom on September 1, 2012, his family grew concerned. Rosario hadn’t taken his medication for the day and was prone to seizures, so they called the police out of concern. But they could never have imagined what was to unfold.
Five armed officers responded, and when Del Rosario didn’t open the bedroom door, they charged inside with weapons raised. Del Rosario was holding a hammer at the time, allegedly advancing toward the officers.
One of the policemen ordered him to drop the hammer, but Del Rosario didn’t speak English. The officer, though protected by a shield, opened fire on the man, sending a fatal bullet into his head.
A grand jury determined that the officer acted appropriately. But now, two years later, the family has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Paterson, alleging wrongful death and $10 million in damages.
When Wrongful Death and Police Brutality Combine
The Del Rosario case is especially interesting because it involves two complex areas of law: wrongful death and police brutality.
The latter is an especially hot-button issue today because of the recent events in Ferguson, MO, where allegations of excessive force by the local police have citizens across the country questioning how much power they want their protectors to have.
As a New Jersey personal injury law firm, we’re all too familiar with both wrongful death and excessive force cases. They often stand among the most difficult and tragic cases we face. And the two go hand in hand more often than you might think.
New Jersey wrongful death law allows certain family members to sue for damages when their loved ones die as the result of someone else’s wrongdoing or negligence. That can include the police. And because excessive use of police force does often result in severe injury or death, it isn’t uncommon for victims or their families to recover millions of dollars in damages.
Of course, governmental parties (like police departments) enjoy certain immunities that private citizens do not have, but they are not shielded from lawsuits in every instance. The outcome of the Del Rosario case remains to be seen, but families in similar situations throughout New Jersey and the United States should know that they do have options.