A lawsuit filed in federal court alleges that a 66-year-old Chinese immigrant man was killed in August 2018 as a result of two Issaquah police officers using excessive force when none was justified.
The legal action was filed April 3 in U.S. District Court in Seattle on behalf of Wangshen Leng by his widow and wife of 30 years, Liping Yang. The lawsuit lists the city of Issaquah and two Issaquah police officers as defendants.
Leng’s death was ruled a homicide by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, according to the lawsuit. William Barbour with the examiner’s office confirmed this on April 4. He further elaborated that it was a result of “aspiration pneumonia due to post-traumatic syringomyelia cervical spinal cord that was due to blunt force injury of the neck.”
The documents state that the injury occurred “during encounter between law enforcement and individual with previous undiagnosed severe age-related cervical spine degenerative changes.”
The King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) has an open investigation into the circumstances related to the incident. The request for the examination was put in on Sept. 7, 2018. Due to the investigation being open and an ongoing lawsuit, the sheriff’s office could not further elaborate, said KCSO spokesperson Ryan Abbott.
The lawsuit names the two officers, and the Reporter is still trying to confirm whether they have been charged or disciplined.
On Aug. 5, 2018, two Issaquah officers responded to the couple’s apartment after receiving a 911 call about yelling taking place somewhere in the apartment building. The lawsuit states the pair was enjoying a quiet day at home when the two officers knocked on their door.
Communication was difficult between the parties. The couple moved to Issaquah from China in 2010, and spoke little English. The lawsuit alleges that the officers seized Leng instead of making an effort to communicate or obtain help.
“Doing so was unjustified,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Leng had not committed any crime or done anything unlawful; he had merely walked around his apartment while speaking his native language, which the officers did not understand.”
However, the city of Issaquah wrote in a statement that “Mr. Leng’s wife answered the door and officers observed that Mr. Leng was holding his wife from behind. The door began to close, potentially keeping the officers from investigating further. The officers then entered the residence to further investigate the possible domestic violence situation, and separate the parties.”
There was no arrest warrant, search warrant or other lawful basis for entering the home or grabbing the man, the plaintiffs assert. The lawsuit also alleges that no crime was observed, and that the officers forcibly grabbed Leng by the arms and stormed into the apartment.
The lawsuit alleges that the officers threw Leng on the couch and began to bend his arms behind his back, applying pressure to his spinal cord.
In its statement, the city said officers attempted to detain Leng to continue their investigation.
“Due to Mr. Leng’s resistance, the officers held him by the arms and moved him to a couch to safely handcuff him,” the statement reads.
Handcuffs were placed on Leng and he went limp, according to the lawsuit. Medical testing would later confirm that the officers’ use of force broke Leng’s neck, compressed his spine and broke his cervical spine, causing irretrievable damage, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states that Leng’s injuries were so severe that an emergency surgery was required, and the outlook during this time was bleak.
Attorney David Owens, who represents the plaintiffs, said following the incident, the police department conducted an investigation into the officers’ use of force. And to Owens’ understanding, the department ruled the amount of force that was used was appropriate.
“At best Mr. Leng could expect to be confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life, owing to the debilitating spinal fracture and permanent orthostatic hypotension,” the lawsuit states. Leng was in pain for 31 days after the encounter before he succumbed to his injuries on Sept. 5, 2018.
“I think it’s really important to understand not only that this tragedy happened, but that the Issaquah Police Department had no problem with this incident…the true tragedy that lies under the heart of this is why would two officers think this was okay to do?” Owens said. “To go and use this kind of force and cause harm to elderly people should be shocking. It’s shocking to me and the city should do something about it.”
The lawsuit also alleges a coverup. In their police reports, the two officers allegedly minimized their actions and in one report, they claimed there were no injuries as a result of the incident, even though the officers called for medical aid. The lawsuit continues that the city of Issaquah “found no problems” with the officers’ use of force and that the officers were not disciplined.
“The actions of the Defendant Officers were obviously unconstitutional and unlawful. They killed an elderly man who had not done anything wrong,” the lawsuit states. “In the aftermath, however, the city did not repudiate the officers; it ratified their conduct. Among other things, the city’s supervisors approved of the Defendant Officers’ conduct and did not scrutinize their actions whatsoever.”