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Settlement Likely in Wrongful Death Suit

A wrongful death suit brought by the wife of a Maryland man who died while in custody of the Capitol Police is likely headed toward settlement, a lawyer for the deceased’s family said after a status hearing Thursday.

After scheduling another status hearing for early October, U.S. District Judge James Robertson agreed, at the request of both sides, to refer the case to a magistrate judge, who could arbitrate a settlement agreement. After agreeing to refer the case, Robertson said, “hopefully that means you’ll never come back here.”

The original lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in November 2004 by the family of Brandywine, Md., resident Gary Thompson. Thompson died Feb. 9, 2004, after he was arrested by Capitol Police following a traffic accident outside Union Station. His widow, Lois Thompson, is seeking $50 million in compensatory damages, as well as legal fees.

“We’re hopeful to get this resolved in the next three months,” Thompson family attorney Jimmy Bell said after the hearing. “It’s a sad situation that Mr. Thompson had to die unnecessarily. Settling this case will start the healing process for the family and ensure some accountability so something like this never happens again.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is representing the Capitol Police, would not comment. “The Department of Justice’s policy is not to comment on settlement negotiations,” said office spokesman Channing Phillips.

According to the lawsuit, Capitol Police officers responding to an accident in which a van driven by Gary Thompson collided with a taxicab near the corner of Columbus Circle and E Street Northeast, found Thompson still in his vehicle hunched over the steering wheel. The family contends that Thompson, a diabetic, suffered from a diabetic seizure shortly before the accident occurred.

The officers attempted to remove Thompson from his vehicle and when he refused, because he was “in medical crisis,” they began to hit Thompson to force him to release the steering wheel, the suit states.

After removing Thompson from the vehicle, officers placed him on the ground on his stomach and handcuffed him. Bell asserts that officers continued to force Thompson to the ground as he attempted to raise his head to breathe.

Thompson then fell unconscious; when paramedics arrived, they were unable to locate a pulse. He was pronounced dead about an hour later at Washington Hospital Center.

The following month, the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner labeled the cause of death “positional asphyxia,” meaning his chest and rib cage were not able to expand so that he could draw breath. The death was ruled a homicide.

The initial complaint and one expert opinion for the case contend that the Capitol Police violated “proper arrest procedures,” which resulted in Thompson’s death.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office was unsuccessful in its motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of “contributory negligence” on the part of Thompson.

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