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Man needing psychiatric help escaped IMPD custody and later died. His family is suing

Sep 18, 2020 | News

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News story originally published by Indystar.

A lawsuit filed earlier this month with the help of Stewart and Stewart blames six Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officers for the death of a 29-year-old man who went missing after escaping police custody.

IMPD officers responded to a request for crisis assistance at East Hanna Avenue on June 7, 2019, according to the lawsuit. Officers detained Nicholas Diaz after determining he should be placed under a 72-hour emergency hold for a psychiatric evaluation.

But according to the lawsuit, filed by attorneys representing the mother of Diaz’s children and his own mother, Diaz was never handcuffed or otherwise restrained. At some point, Diaz escaped.

On June 13, IMPD issued a missing persons alert for Diaz, according to multiple local news reports. In the alert, Diaz is said to suffer from bi-polar disorder “and may be in need of medical assistance.” He was last seen June 7 on Hanna Avenue, according to the alert.

 The lawsuit also alleges “no meaningful search” for Diaz was conducted.

What we know:IMPD officers indicted in arrests during May protests

On June 14, Diaz was found dead less than a mile from the home officers responded to days before.

In records provided to IndyStar by the Marion County Coroner’s Office, Diaz’s cause of death is listed as “combined toxic effects of multiple drugs including amphetamine, methamphetamine and buprenorphine.” The manner of death is listed as accidental.

Diaz was declared dead the day he was found. Chief Deputy Coroner Alfie McGinty said the office does not estimate date of death.

What IMPD policy says

Attorney Nicholas Wagner declined to go into detail about the circumstances surrounding Diaz’s death or the allegations, but said the family “feels strongly that had those responsible for Nicholas’s care taken the proper measures and followed the approved, reasonable protocol he would still be with us today.”

An IMPD spokesperson referred IndyStar to the Office of Corporation Counsel for comment on the lawsuit. That office declined to answer IndyStar’s questions about the lawsuit or the events leading to Diaz’s death.

IndyStar was also referred to IMPD’s General Orders, which outline law enforcement protocols. According to the order active at the time and related to detaining someone for psychiatric evaluation, the person must be handcuffed behind the back, unless there are “exigent circumstances.”

Use of force:Read IMPD’s policies from 2020, 2016 and 2012

That order was updated Sept. 25, 2019, nearly four months after Diaz was found dead. It still requires such persons be handcuffed, but it also says officers must request the assistance of a Crisis Intervention Team trained to deal with mental health crises.

The lawsuit alleges the Crisis Intervention Team was never called, but at the time Diaz was detained, officers weren’t required to do so.

The six officers named in the lawsuit were not disciplined in relation to Diaz’s detainment or escape, personnel records provided to IndyStar show. They are: Nicholas Draher, Anthony Kelly, Robert Chandler, Lawrence Cress, David Ellis and Justin Baker. All of officers remain employed with IMPD.

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