After a man drowned to death while in police custody, a special prosecutor has now declined to bring criminal charges against the state trooper who held the man in custody. The prosecutor determined that the trooper's actions before and during the fatal accident did not constitute criminal recklessness. However, the family will still be able to pursue a wrongful death suit against the trooper and/or any other third-party deemed negligent, if they chose to do so. Any Virginia family who has suffered a similar loss may also be able to take legal action.
Just after 5 p.m. on May 31, the trooper pulled the 20-year-old's boat over, possibly for speeding, but that fact has not been confirmed. The young man had seven friends with him on the boat, and they allegedly witnessed the trooper place the man in handcuffs. After he was already handcuffed, the officer then attempted to place a Type III life vest on him, but that type of vest reportedly should have been placed on him before the handcuffs.
The trooper then sped away with the man in handcuffs on the officer's boat. However, as they approached the patrol zone office, the man fell into the water, and the vest floated away. The trooper claims that he "exhausted himself" as he tried to save the man's life, but he was unable to do so.
The special prosecutor's decision not to take the case to criminal court certainly shocked the man's family. However, the prosecutor did say that she believed negligence played a part in the fatal accident. The man's family retains the right to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit in an effort to receive monetary reimbursement for any damages sustained and to achieve some sense of justice for the tragedy. A Virginia family who has also suffered the loss of a loved one due to the negligence of another party may be able to take similar legal action.
Source: The Kansas City Star, "Trooper's actions weren't "reckless," special prosecutor says", Laura Bauer, Sept. 8, 2014