Man Left Paralyzed And Needed Legs Amputated After Handcuffed Ride In Police Van – Lawsuit Says

A federal lawsuit filed on Monday alleges that a man was left paralyzed and ultimately had to undergo leg amputation after an encounter with police officers in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Heriberto Alejandro Sanchez-Mayen initiated the lawsuit in the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida against the city of St. Petersburg and officers Sarah Gaddis and Michael Thacker. The lawsuit claims that the officers put him in restraints, placed him in the back of a police van without a seatbelt, and then drove recklessly, resulting in severe injuries.

The incident in question occurred on June 8, 2023, when Sanchez-Mayen was detained and arrested by Officer Gaddis for trespassing. According to police body camera footage, Gaddis found Sanchez-Mayen lying in a grassy lot and initially intended to issue a ticket.

However, she changed her mind and decided to take him to jail, citing previous complaints and repeated offenses. Officer Thacker arrived at the scene with a police van and restrained Sanchez-Mayen using a metal belly chain, limiting his arm movement.

During the arrest, Thacker made remarks suggesting a punitive approach to addressing Sanchez-Mayen’s behavior, indicating a preference for longer jail sentences for repeated offenses. Sanchez-Mayen’s attorney, Thomas Scolaro, acknowledged his client’s prior arrests for minor offenses such as loitering and trespassing and described him as homeless with alcohol-related issues that had never resulted in violence.

After being handcuffed, Sanchez-Mayen was placed in the back of the van without a seatbelt, as alleged in the lawsuit and corroborated by video evidence from inside the van. Thacker then purportedly drove recklessly, leading to a hard stop at a red light, causing Sanchez-Mayen to be thrown forward and strike his head on a metal partition. The lawsuit claims that Thacker initially failed to activate the van’s camera but turned it on after hearing a loud crash in the back.

Upon arriving at the Pinellas County jail, Thacker discovered Sanchez-Mayen unconscious and unresponsive in the back of the van. Despite attempts to wake him, Sanchez-Mayen remained motionless. Thacker then dragged him out of the van, causing further injuries as his body struck various surfaces. The lawsuit alleges that these actions resulted in spinal cord injuries, leaving Sanchez-Mayen quadriplegic and necessitating the amputation of both legs above the knee.

Furthermore, the lawsuit contends that Sanchez-Mayen should not have been arrested in the first place, as the charge of criminal trespassing was later dismissed by the county court. The officers involved are accused of various offenses, including excessive force, intentional battery, false arrest, and malicious prosecution, while the city is accused of negligent supervision and training.

The incident draws parallels to the controversial practice known as a “rough ride,” wherein individuals detained by police are transported in the back of a van without proper restraint and subjected to erratic driving. This term gained widespread attention following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, who sustained severe injuries during transportation in a police van.

The St. Petersburg Police Department issued a statement denying the claims and expressing confidence in the judicial process. Media inquiries regarding the pending litigation were directed to the City of St. Petersburg City Attorney’s Office. CNN reached out to the city and the officers involved for further comment, but responses were not provided at the time of reporting.