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Nevada: Jail Death Due to Excessive Force Leads to $175,000 in Settlements

by Dale Chappell

An excessive force death at the hands of Washoe County, Nevada sheriff’s deputies ended in settlements totaling $175,000. It was the third excessive force death in a two-year period for the Sheriff’s Department.

When 38-year-old Thomas Purdy, Jr. began acting erratically at the Peppermill Casino in Reno in 2015, security forcefully escorted him from the property. He was found lying on the ground in the parking lot, and security guards used handcuffs to restrain him until the police arrived. During his arrest, Purdy was hog-tied using a RIPP restraint.

At the Washoe County Jail, he kept telling sheriff’s deputies that he couldn’t breathe. Purdy remained hog-tied for 40 minutes until they removed the restraints in a holding cell. By then he had stopped breathing, and died shortly afterward.

Purdy’s family filed a federal lawsuit arguing that Washoe County deputies, as well as Peppermill security guards and Reno police officers, had violated his civil rights. The suit focused largely on the use of the RIPP restraint to hog-tie him. The manufacturer of the device, the lawsuit claimed, provided training to Reno police and expressly warned them to “never hog-tie a prisoner” and “never place any subject in a hog-tied position. Death may occur from the positional restraint asphyxia.”

The medical examiner determined Purdy’s death was caused by “excited delirium.” He also had methamphetamines in his system. Video from the jail showed Purdy begging jail staff and a nurse to help him because he couldn’t breathe; minutes later, he stopped breathing.

Similarly, in August 2015, Niko Smith died in the same manner at the Washoe County Jail. That incident occurred just two months before Purdy’s death, and resulted in a $75,000 settlement. And in August 2016, Justin Thompson stopped breathing as he struggled with deputies at the jail; his family filed suit and settled for $500,000. Both deaths were ruled “homicides” by the medical examiner. [See: PLN, March 2018, p.16].

In Purdy’s case, the medical examiner said he would not have died but for the restraint and physical force used against him, according to court pleadings.

On June 19, 2018, Washoe County Commissioners approved a $100,000 settlement with Purdy’s family to resolve their wrongful death complaint. They had previously obtained $25,000 from the City of Reno and $50,000 from Peppermill in separate settlements. See: Purdy v. Peppermill Casinos, Inc., U.S.D.C. (D. Nev.), Case No. 3:17-cv-00423-MMD-WGC. 


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Related legal case

Purdy v. Peppermill Casinos, Inc.