The family of a Brazil man who died last year in Putnam County after a police pursuit has filed a wrongful death claim in federal court, accusing six police agencies of using excessive force, resulting in the man's death.
The family is seeking $5 million in compensation.
Bradley E. Karn, 25, Brazil, was pronounced dead at Putnam County Hospital on Feb. 24, 2006, after he stopped breathing while being arrested following a traffic stop and a police chase.
Police officers from the Greencastle, Cloverdale and Putnam County Sheriff's departments, along with the Indiana State Police, Brazil Police and Clay County Sheriff's departments are named in the lawsuit.
In the complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, representatives of Karn's estate accused officers of spraying Karn with pepper spray, beating him and holding him face-down on an incline for several minutes, "even though he did not pose a threat of physical harm to the officers surrounding him."
A pathology report indicated Karn died from excited delirium syndrome. Pathology reports also showed Karn was morbidly obese and tested positive for methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol. The reports indicated Karn experienced positional asphyxiation, which means the body is positioned in such a way that it interferes with the ability to breathe.
The family of Karn issued a statement Monday that police in Brazil knew their son and were aware of his mental illness when they made the traffic stop that turned into a vehicle pursuit.
"Brad's parents understand their son made a mistake that night by leaving the scene of this minor traffic stop," attorney Stephen Wagner stated, "but they do not believe this mistake should have cost Brad his life."
Indiana State Police, an agency that assisted in the pursuit and arrest of Karn, conducted the initial investigation into Karn's death.
A coroner's inquest was launched by Putnam County Coroner Thomas Miller as an independent investigation into the death.
According to police, the pursuit began when Karn fled from a Clay County Sheriff's deputy during a traffic stop. Karn led police through Brazil, south on Ind. 59 and eastbound on Interstate 70.
Police used stop sticks to deflate the tires on Karn's vehicle, and continued to follow him as the chase became a slow-speed pursuit. The pursuit was ended when Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton bumped Karn's vehicle in a "slow-speed legal intervention," causing the car to spin and come to a stop.
Police vehicles then surrounded Karn's car, and police demanded he exit the vehicle. Karn refused, and police began to break his windows, sprayed him with a chemical agent and forcibly removed him, according to police.
At the time, police reported that Karn continued to struggle as he was handcuffed. He then collapsed and stopped breathing.
Miller said while Karn was handcuffed, he was lying on his stomach on a hill with his head pointing downward. Karn's weight and gravity caused his stomach to push into his diaphragm and did not allow him to breath, Miller reported.
Karn's death was determined accidental at the inquest.
The Karn family disagrees with that finding.
Wagner, an Indianapolis attorney, said the Karn family hopes their lawsuit will "bring public awareness to the overzealous actions of the responsible officers and result in better law enforcement training and response when dealing with suspects, especially those suffering from mental illness."