The mother and grandmother of two children of a Scott man who died a year ago after losing consciousness during an arrest have filed separate wrongful-death lawsuits in federal court in Lafayette on behalf of the minors.
Catherine Cortez filed suit Friday in the death of her son, Robert Minjarez Jr., a day after Heather Scanlan — the mother of the two children — filed her own lawsuit.
The Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office ruled Minjarez’s death a homicide in September, citing the 30-year-old’s cause of death as asphyxia “due to face-down physical restraint by law enforcement officers,” with muscle breakdown and cocaine toxicity cited as contributing factors.
“The forensic pathology report is the best independent public record showing the shocking manner that this man was killed,” said Lafayette lawyer Clay Burgess, the attorney for Cortez.
Although Scanlan still cares for the children, Cortez is challenging her competency in handling the matter, Burgess said.
Scanlan’s lawyer, Crowley attorney Clay LeJeune, did not return a message Thursday afternoon for comment.
Deputies with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office and officers with the Scott and Carencro police departments were involved in Minjarez’s arrest, thus multiple defendants are named in both wrongful-death suits.
Both name Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Neustrom, Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout, Scott Police Chief Chad Leger and Lafayette Parish Deputy Joey Graciana as defendants, along with the cities of Carencro and Scott.
Lafayette Consolidated Government is named in Scanlan’s suit.
Cortez’s suit also names Sheriff’s Office Sgt. John Sullivan, Sgt. Jill Birkenmeier and Deputy Matthew Meginley as defendants, along with Scott police Officer Hayden Godeaux.
All remain employed with their respective agencies except for Birkenmeier, who resigned in January, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Minjarez was taken off life support March 7, 2014, five days after he became unresponsive while officers were shackling his hands and legs and pinning him down — his lower half upon the sidewalk, his upper body below the curb — in front of a Lafayette convenience store, according to a surveillance video cited in his autopsy report.
He pleaded for help for about four minutes, screaming “I can’t breathe,” “you are going to kill me” multiple times before he groaned and lost consciousness, according to the autopsy report.
The March 2, 2014, incident began with Minjarez pacing in front of the Texaco store at Pont des Mouton Road and University Avenue while Scanlan and their two children were inside, according to the lawsuits. The store clerk reported his behavior to police, and responding officers detained him almost immediately.
State Police does not comment on pending investigations but confirmed Thursday the agency submitted its investigative report into the matter to the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. That agency’s action on the matter is on hold while the FBI conducts its own investigation.
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