ECBAWM Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Ocoee and Windermere (FL) Police
- May 19, 2021
Jean Samuel Celestin died unnecessarily at the hands of Florida police officers on April 11, 2019. Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Ocoee (FL), the town of Windermere (FL), four Ocoee Police Department (“OPD”) officers, and one Windermere Police Department (“WPD”) officer, on behalf of Mr. Celestin’s family. The suit, filed along with co-counsel King & Markman, P.A., alleges that Mr. Celestin was deprived of his constitutional rights when the officers physically restrained to him to the point that he lost consciousness and died. Mr. Celestin’s family seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
On April 11, 2019, Mr. Celestin’s mother and sister called 911 to ask for assistance because Mr. Celestin was in a mental health crisis and was expressing delusional thoughts. The road patrol officers, violating standard procedures for interacting with people in distress, treated Mr. Celestin as a dangerous criminal, rather than a mental health patient in need of emergency treatment. Though Crisis Intervention Teams have existed in Ocoee for over 20 years, in order to reduce the risk of serious injury or death during an emergency interaction between persons with mental illness and police officers, the responding officers failed to engage such a team.
The officers also refused to handcuff Mr. Celestin when he offered his wrists in surrender, and tased him multiple times. They also restrained him with a controversial “hobble” restraint, also known as a “hogtie,” which has been known to cause death by positional asphyxia since at least 1995. OPD and WPD officers left Mr. Celestin hogtied and face-down in the grass for almost an entire minute. The coroner’s report indicates that this hogtie was a proximate cause of Mr. Celestin’s death.
“Samuel Celestin is no longer with us for one reason and one reason only: because police officers treated a sick person in need of help like a dangerous criminal who had just committed a violent felony,” said Andrew G. Celli, Jr., an ECBAWM attorney representing the plaintiff. “The failings that killed Samuel are systemic; they reflect inadequate training and the misuse of equipment; extremely poor tactical conduct by the officers—including intentional escalation of a conflict when de-escalation was called for; and an utter failure to assist a person in distress. This case will expose all of that and more.”
Along with Mr. Celli, the Celestin family is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan Abady, Earl Ward, and Andrew Jondahl, along with Jeremy Markman from King & Markman, P.A. in Orlando, FL. For additional information, see this press release and the complaint.
“Family of man who died after being tased by Ocoee police discusses newly filed lawsuit,” WFTV
“Family suing Ocoee police after deadly encounter,” Fox 35 Orlando
“Police who tased Ocoee man during mental health crisis should face charges in his death, family says,” Orlando Sentinel