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Lawsuit filed over man's death in struggle with Phoenix police officers

Posted at 2:44 PM, Dec 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-20 16:44:55-05

A lawsuit alleging excessive force has been filed against the city of Phoenix in the death of a homeless man during a struggle with police officers nearly a year ago outside a community center.

Muhammad Abdul Muhaymin, 43, died shortly after officers took him into custody for having an outstanding criminal warrant. Police were called to the Maryvale Community Center after a dispute arose there over whether Muhaymin, who suffered from mental disabilities, could bring his service dog into a public bathroom with him.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month by Muhaymin's sister, seeks $10 million from the city. It alleges excessive force and wrongful death, saying officers caused the death by using unjustified force in restraining Muhaymin, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and acute claustrophobia.

The Phoenix Police Department on Tuesday declined to comment on the lawsuit. The agency also declined to specify the charge that Muhaymin faced in the outstanding warrant or say whether any officers were disciplined as a result of the encounter.

David Chami, the lawyer representing Muhaymin's sister, said one officer at the scene escalated tensions by approaching Muhaymin in an aggressive manner and shouting at him. "Their job is to de-escalate the situation," Chami said.

Muhaymin was eventually allowed to go into the bathroom at the community center, but officers who ran a records check on him then discovered he had an outstanding warrant, according to the lawsuit. Officers told him that he was under arrest after he was escorted out of the building.

The lawsuit said officers didn't answer Muhaymin's questions about what the warrant was for and told him to put his dog down on the ground. Officers eventually knocked the dog out of Muhaymin's hands after he said he didn't have anyone to care for the animal, according to the lawsuit.

He was forced to the ground by officers and handcuffed in a struggle. The lawsuit said officers placed the weight of their bodies on Muhaymin's head, back and limbs. Muhaymin screamed as he struggled with officers.

After officers brought Muhaymin to the center's parking lot, the struggle continued, with officers forcing him to the ground again. Officers put their weight top of Muhaymin while another officer asked for restraints to restrict him from walking, the lawsuit said.

Body-camera video of the encounter showed officers urging Muhaymin, who was handcuffed and laying face-down on the ground, to stop moving.

"I can't breathe," Muhaymin told officers.Muhaymin went into cardiac arrest, began vomiting and died. An officer tried to resuscitate him, according to the lawsuit