The mother of two children whose father died during an intense confrontation with several Plaquemine police officers a year ago has filed a $6 million federal lawsuit against the city, police chief and the police department.
In the suit, Ariel Barker claims officers violated the civil and constitutional rights of David Anthony Ourso, Jr., the father of her children, during an encounter with the 38-year-old man on June 1, 2016.
The police came into contact with Ourso while responding to calls that a man was wandering door-to-door in a Plaquemine neighborhood, acting erratically and asking people for help.
Body cam footage Barker's attorneys provided to The Advocate Friday shows four officers arrived on the scene and wrestled Ourso to the ground as they attempted to handcuff him. He died shortly after they took him down.
"The video speaks for itself," said Shannon Battiste, one of two lawyers representing Baker.
"After he said he couldn't breathe, they put a knee in his back," said Harry Brown, a second attorney representing Barker.
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Plaquemine Police Chief Kenny Payne said Friday he could not comment on Barker's suit, which was filed on behalf of her minor children, because his agency had not yet been served by the court.
However, Payne did confirm that Ourso died while several of his officers were trying to restrain him.
In their report, officers claimed Ourso did not comply with their commands and was "forcibly and violently" resisting them.
An autopsy report says Ourso died from heart complications caused by methamphetamine in his system and by the physical struggle and method officers used to restrain him.
A grand jury investigated the circumstances of Ourso's death but did not find justification to charge the officers, court records show.
"From a criminal perspective, the officers definitely did not break any laws," Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton said Friday.
He said he'd be surprised if a jury awarded any money to Barker and her children "once they realize the facts that took place."
In the complaint, filed May 27 in federal court, Barker's attorneys claim four officers with the Plaquemine Police Department violated Ourso's civil and constitutional rights to due process by using unnecessary force while trying to arrest him, resulting in his death.
The suit says Plaquemine police officers James Breaux, Demetre Jackson, Victor Hebert and Travis Roberts came into contact with Ourso on the night of June 1, 2016, as they responded to 9-1-1- calls about a man wandering through a neighborhood who was hollering and screaming for help.
Officers Breaux, Jackson and Roberts arrived on the scene first, the complaint states, and located Ourso, who fit the description of the individual in the 9-1-1 calls.
Ourso, who was clad in only his underwear when officers showed up, was ordered by the officers to "don't move" and "put your hands up."
The suit claims Ourso was fully complying with the officers' demands. However, when Hebert, identified in the compliant as an off-duty officer, showed up, it states that he body slammed Ourso to the ground.
The suit asserts that Ourso posed no threat to the four officers at the time
"Nevertheless, officers Roberts, Breaux, Jackson and off-duty Det. Hebert utilized the prone restraint maneuver to further restrain Ourso, and they held him down by his arms and legs," the suit states.
It adds that one officer stepped on Ourso's hand and that, "Despite Ourso's cry for help, complaints that he could not breathe, and his assertion that he was dying, all four officers remained deliberately indifferent to Ourso's obvious need for immediate medical care."
The complaint further alleges that one of the officers instructed another to break Ourso's arm and handcuff the man. It also claims one officer placed his knee on Ourso's head and a third placed his knee and full weight on Ourso's back during the confrontation.
"None of the four officers rendered in care or concern to Ourso's obvious need for medical care," the complaint states. "Instead, as Ourso pleaded with them for help to breathe, the officers told Ourso, 'You can breathe when you calm down.' "
Ourso's body went lifeless shortly thereafter, according to the complaint.
Battiste said it has been recommended that the "prone restraint" method not be used by law enforcement because it increases the likelihood of a person dying
He faulted the officers for letting Ourso lay there for minutes without giving him medical aid.
Added Brown, "We don't think they intentionally tried to kill him. However, we do think some of the actions they took contributed to his death."