A 77-year-old Korean War veteran with Alzheimer’s disease who wandered away from the Montana Veterans Home in Columbia Falls was shocked by police with a stun gun, fell face-first on pavement and died in a hospital about three weeks later, a lawsuit filed by the man’s granddaughter charges.

According to the complaint filed April 5 in District Court in Helena, Stanley L. “Stan” Downen was admitted to the state-run home on May 31, 2012, “with a history of behavioral issues and advanced dementia resulting from severe progressive Alzheimer’s disease.”

The next day, he wandered off. Staff members tried to bring him back, but “instead agitated Stanley and escalated the situation,” the lawsuit charges.

Staff called 911 and Columbia Falls police responded, according to the complaint. When he still refused to cooperate, an officer stunned him with a stun gun and he fell face-first into the pavement and struck his head, according to the complaint.

“An ambulance arrived … to find Stanley handcuffed and lying face down in the middle of the street,” the complaint says. “Care providers noted several abrasions to Stanley’s hands and forehead, and extensive injuries over his left eye with swelling and an abrasion on his scalp.”

He was placed in a cervical collar and on a backboard before being transported to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, according to the complaints.

“Nursing staff from the Montana Veteran’s Home called to inform Stanley’s family that he had tripped and fallen while running, and that he was taken to the hospital,” the complaint says. “It was not until two days later that Stanley’s family discovered Stanley had been tased by the police.”

He died on June 24, 2012, due to injuries from the fall, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit was filed by Downen’s grand-daughter, Tamara Downen, of Columbia Falls, representing his estate.

The suit alleges negligence and wrongful death by the nursing home, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and the Columbia Falls Police Department. It also charged the home with medical and nursing malpractice and accuses the police of assault and battery.

It demands unspecified damages, including punitive damages against the police department.

A DPHHS spokesman said the department would not comment on ongoing litigation. An attorney representing Columbia Falls said the city had not been served with the suit and declined immediate comment.

An attorney for Downen with the Missoula firm Milodragovich, Dale and Steinbrenner also said he could not comment on ongoing litigation.

Stan Downen was born in Westby in 1934 and his family moved to Browning, then Coram and then Columbia Falls, according to his obituary in the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell.

He served in active duty in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War on the USS Newport News, according to the obituary,

He was an ironworker for nearly 30 years, working for a time in South Africa, and also worked at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. until his retirement in 1998, according to the obituary.

He was also a charter member of the North Valley Search and Rescue team and, along with other iron-workers, built several playgrounds in the Flathead Valley, according to the obituary.

Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086, sanjay.talwani@helenair.com. Follow Sanjay on Twitter @IR_SanjayT.

(32) comments

Agent Smith
Agent Smith

Sending 50,000 volts of electricity into the body of a man almost eighty years-old in order to subdue him is so profoundly stupid that there's simply no excuse for it. If I were king of the world, I'd offer those cops the choice of either surrendering their badges immediately or watch their grandfathers get tased.

SerialThriller
SerialThriller

Prefect reply!! this family has EVERY right to conscionably sue the PANTS off the PD.

APerfectCure

The man is 77, and you needed to pull your stungun? Who hires these people. You are taking some of the most dangerous people and putting badges on them. Why are we allowing police brutality in Montana...this issue has arisen too many times for uour populous and should be addressed!

ToutPrest
ToutPrest

Dear police officers around Montana: if you can't handle a feeble old man without a weapon.... time to look into a new career!!! Shame on you!!!

wopp64

Are you kidding me ????? this officer couldnt restrain this elderly person ? come on, he was a senior citizen that could of easily been restrained. If these officers cannot restrain a person at that age , they shouldnt be an officer. i hope the family wins huge in this taser incident that could have been EASILY avoided, especially in the middle of the street. That officer needs to be discharged for being an $#@%%$# !!! , i know many officers that would of handled this with care, wish they were there for this one. Peace

fujii

I find it disturbing that police officers have been trained to resort to the stun gun to subdue on an "old man" and then the crisis becomes an effort to cover up by the nursing home, what has happend to our nation?

dolphind3

This is sad, we need to rethink how these tazers are used. If the police can't get a 77 year old man back under supervised care without tazing him then it is time for them to find a new job.

steeline

Pay attention folks, wait until they roll out the armored assualt wagon on the folks. Just think of someone bad enough where our law enforcement needs an armored assualt vehicle to solve a problem. What next " storm troopers"? Stay tuned.

TonyT

What ever officer or group of officers in the Columbia Falls Police Department decided that it is ok to stun a 77 year old Alzheimer patient are pathetic individuals. They also need to be counseled into another profession because they obviously do not understand professional behavior or how to subdue unarmed senior citizens. Completely pathetic and were obviously asleep in their officer training.

mac101

Unfortunately, we need a frank discussion on aging and the care of the aged. Advanced Alzheimer's patients can become very agitated and very combative, and unable to understand what others are trying to do to to help them stay safe. Our nursing homes are no longer allowed to use "as needed" medications in these situations, and in our zeal to create restraint-free environments as more humane, we have created unsafe situations where agitated patients attack staff and other frail elderly patients all the time.

Combine that with unsecured facilities, and this situation escalates all too frequently. The fall back position for nursing homes and hospitals around the state is to call the police.

The state of Montana, with it's demographics of aging population coupled with the high number of veterans, is particularly unable to care for it's elderly psychiatric and Alzheimer's populations, and this situation will continue to worsen.

We need an influx of secure Alzheimer's facilities in this state, and we need them now. Otherwise, we will continue to have these tragedies.

dietz1963

Best common sense comment so far..

chaotic

The state has really cracked down on the use of any kind of restraints and medicating someone is considered a "chemical restraint" which is closely monitored with strict regulations. Nursing homes are still able to use as needed medications but sometimes they are not effective and/or the situation escalates so fast that it is impossible to get the medication into the person and would require restraining them and giving an injection which is not always possible.

Jason Smith

To Serve and Protect or Seek and Destroy? Officers in Montana...officers with DUI's, federal investigations about rape investigations, flash grenades in child's bedroom, unjustified shootings of citizen's, and now stun gunning seniors with dementia. Maybe ethic classes and education should be required to become a Montana officer instead of just having a military background. A college degree won't get you a job as a "peace officer" in Montana when competing against someone with just a military background applying for the same job.

gemini_chick
gemini_chick

Disgusting!

chaotic

I work in a nursing home with elderly people just like this who have alzheimers/dementia and sure it would have required some extra work for the officer(s) involved but they could have restrained him without using a stun gun!!! NO EXCUSE! This officer should be terminated immediately!

dietz1963

2 questions for you chaotic since sounds like you have the experience. 1st, why didn't the staff deal with this then vs calling law enforcement and second, since they didn't deal with this, why did they dial 911 which is an emergency telephone # vs. regular phone in to law enforcement for assistance?

chaotic

mac101 said it well in his comment below, staff are only able to do so much in certain situations at these faclilities and they did the right thing by calling the police in this situation. I am sure they called 911 vs. non-emergenty because this man's safety was in immediate jeporady when he wandered outside due to his mental status, he could have been hit by a car, fallen, etc. Too bad he ended up getting hurt anyways. I do have to wonder why the nursing facility didn't tell the family the truth about what happened though, that makes no sense.

dietz1963

Do any of you know if he was feeble? I know quite a few folks over 75 that aren't feeble at all and in some cases in better shape then some of us that are younger. That aside, I don't think a tazer was needed but let me ask you folks this, how would you handle the situation when verbal commands aren't working? Just about anything law enforcement does now a days that has any kind of hands on approach, or hands off but using a tazer, automatically gets labeled policy brutality. The flip side of the no using a tazer is now law enforcement during apprehension can get hurt and the other party most definately is going to hurt. Anyone that has had to physically restrain anybody that resists or "fights back" knows this. You folks are saying he's feeble, well, trying to physically apprehend someone who is feeble could mean he gets severely brused, armwrist/leg could get broken....

dolphind3

If verbal commands are not working and you are alone and don't feel you can control him then you get on your little radio and call for back up Dietz. That would be the proper protocol. We were in Yakima last summer at a sports tournament and a deputy walked through the complex with a picture of a man that hand wandered away from an assisted senior care center. When they found him, that guy didn't want to go back either but they didn't taze him. We used to train our Leo's to handle this kind of situation. I would hope that if I had a senior family member that wandered off I could feel safe about calling the police. Now if my mother in law wanders off.........hmmmmm

dietz1963

Like I said dolph, I don't think they should have tazed him but also know through having had to use restraint when I served, its often either the restrainor or the restrainee gets injured. Just depends on how combative the other person is.

dolphind3

In some cases I will agree with that but we are also not talking about a criminal here that needs to be taken right away. This was just handled poorly.

dietz1963

Which neither one of us will know because we weren't there. You know as well as I do some folks with mental health issues (criminal or not) exhibit strength levels beyond the average person. We don't know what the officer was told on the 911 call if he-she was fully aware of his condition or if his training was adequate for the situation. We don't know if he was combative and if he was, what level of strength he may have had. Guess I sort of wonder is why the officer didn't request assistance from folks of the home who obviously are trained to deal with folks like this.

ToutPrest
ToutPrest

feeble: 1.physically - -OR- - mentally weak: lacking physical or mental strength or health.

ksn117

Just because he's 77 years old doesn't necessarily mean he's feeble. I used to work with the elderly as a nurse's aide and the men, especially the ones with dementia, can be very strong if they're upset. Not saying it was right to tase him, but we weren't there. The nurses definitely should not have lied to the family though.

FlamingLiberal1

I know we aren't in possession of all the facts related to this incident but using a stun gun on an elderly dementia patient seems excessive to me.

wopp64

feeble or not !! these officers should or are trained to restrain, so whats the problem here, it doesnt matter what size or age you are, it doesnt take much to restrain a person without using a taser, unless there was meth involved or a pediphile, then take out the guns and fire away then ask questions, but take some training in Mandt or some jujitsu training and holster the taser for the elders. Feeble, come on, he was 77yrs old, so what, he was confused and wouldnt have known he was being restrained. oh, and yes fire the officer

ResidentCitizen
ResidentCitizen

If Columbia Falls had a BEAR, this never would've happened. At least we are safe.

dietz1963

Thinking about this lawsuit I'm sort of wondering, is the goal to look at how either the law enforcment/veterans home handles things like this and fix it? Or simply to sue for millions? I note a lot of lawsuits don't really seem to be about fixing things anymore but to gain a monetary sum. How many lawsuits end up being settled out of court for millions? Ultimately self defeating, so people can cash in but the problem remains?

FlamingLiberal1

I would certainly hope any settlement would include procedural improvements for both the home and law enforcement. And also that the home and law enforcement will proactively address the issue right now.

dolphind3

Procedural improvements would be my main goal.

MT_born_and_raised

I just cant believe the police officers were unable to come to any other decision for one thing what was he doing so wrong that they couldn't have just followed him kept him safe and prevent harm from or to him. That officer should lose his job and the remaining officers need to be trained in how to deal with elderly patients whose hearts probably cant take the shock of being tazered. i was absolutely apolled when i read this story

dietz1963

As I've said before, we don't know the entire story but as both the HPD and home are getting sued, I'm sure we'll hear more.

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