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Family Can’t Sue Police for Son’s Beating Death

SAN ANTONIO (CN) - The family of a paranoid schizophrenic who died after a cocaine-fueled fight with police cannot sue the officers for civil rights violations, a federal judge ruled.

Pierre Abernathy, 30, clashed with San Antonio police after an officer spotted the diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic driving in the wrong direction on Aug. 4, 2011.

After leading police on a low-speed chase, it took seven officers and a police dog to bring Abernathy under control. He was stunned repeatedly with a Taser, bitten by a police dog, hit with a baton and punched in the face, according to court records.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said in his March 31 ruling that the officers' use of force was not unreasonable, given Abernathy's "near superhuman ability to resist at previous attempts to restrain him."

"In light of the context in which the officers found themselves in their attempts to apprehend and detain Abernathy, the court concludes that the defendants deployed force that was neither clearly excessive nor clearly unreasonable."

In granting San Antonio's motion to dismiss, Lamberth recounts the lengthy struggle. After leading police to his mother's home, Abernathy initially complied and allowed his right wrist to be handcuffed, then began resisting. He was Tasered twice, escaped from the struggle and fended off at least 10 Taser shots and a police dog's bite as he ran from the home.

A neighbor saw Abernathy "curled up in a ball" and crying out for his mother, according to the summary.

Abernathy's brother said officers ignored his and other family members' alerts that Abernathy was a paranoid schizophrenic. He says he heard officers say: "Yeah, get some, yeah, get some!" while they beat him for 15 minutes.

It took seven officers to tackle and subdue Abernathy, in a neighbor's flower bed. One officer admitted he punched Abernathy with a fist, saying he feared the man was within reach of his service weapon.

"Also relevant to the safety of the officers was the facts that, at this point, Abernathy was now physically resisting while a set of handcuffs dangled from his right wrist which could be used as a weapon," the ruling states.

Finally handcuffed, Abernathy was still breathing and had a pulse, officers said, but he died within minutes of arriving at a hospital.

An autopsy found the cause of death "the result of the combined effects of intoxication with cocaine, a prolonged struggle, and a cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart.)"

In dismissing the excessive force claims, Lamberth found the officers are entitled to qualified immunity in light of Abernathy's continued resistance, and the officers' use of other means of force to detain him to no avail.

He also dismissed state law claims of assault and battery, finding that Abernathy's family failed to timely file amended pleadings.

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