City officials are telling a drastically different story about a 2011 traffic stop than a 60-year-old man with artificial legs who alleges Lincoln police forced him from his van at gunpoint, mocked and humiliated him, and made him crawl under the vehicle to get his legs, which had fallen off during the altercation.
In a document submitted Tuesday, the city gave its own version of events in an answer to Leroy Duffie’s civil rights lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Lincoln.
On Sept. 3, 2011, officers stopped Duffie as he drove south on 27th Street. They were looking for a suspect who had brandished a handgun in a convenience store, then fled in a vehicle that matched the description of Duffie’s 1998 burgundy Chevrolet Astro van, the city’s answer says.
Duffie’s suit says six officers flanked his van, three on each side, and with guns drawn ordered him to get out with his hands up. He rolled down his window and tried to explain he couldn’t get out because he has two prosthetic legs, but officers continued to yell.
Duffie opened the door, stepped out and fell face first to the ground because his prosthesis detached. Cancer treatments had caused him to lose weight and the prostheses didn’t fit right.
The impact of his fall knocked out several teeth and caused him to tear his rotator cuff, the lawsuit says.
The city’s answer places blame for the fall with Duffie, saying he neglected to exercise due caution in getting out of the vehicle. It also says officers didn’t know of his disability, nor did they see a handicap parking sign, which Duffie says was hanging from the rearview mirror.
Duffie's suit says officers should have known of his disabilities because he had numerous past traffic violations and he was driving his own vehicle.
The city admits an officer put Duffie in handcuffs, but says the cuffs were removed after he was searched for weapons. City officials say officers acted in good faith and offered to help Duffie, but he refused.
The city denies officers harassed or ridiculed him, or that he suffered injury, pain, suffering, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life or lost wages due to the incident.
Duffie says the event left him with nightmares. He has been diagnosed with depression and he suffers symptoms of post-traumatic stress. He had to have surgery to fix the rotator cuff.
The physical and mental wounds he suffered left him unable to work as a mechanic, his main source of income, and he closed his church, Rock of Salvation Ministries, his wife has said.
Duffie’s lawsuit alleges the officers’ actions were negligent and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It also says officers used excessive force with indifference to rights guaranteed him by the U.S. Constitution.
The suit asks for $200,000 for pain, suffering, distress, humiliation and the loss of enjoyment of his life; $400,000 in punitive damages and an unspecified additional amount for medical expenses, lost wages and diminished earning capacity.
The city claims immunity for itself and officers from punitive damages and from other allegations because the police were working within the scope of their employment and performed official duties.
The lawsuit, originally filed in Lancaster County District Court, lists the city, Officer Nathan Kaiser and five unknown officers as defendants.
City Attorney Rod Confer declined a request for additional comment.
Duffie's attorney, Brian Craig of Disabilities Rights Nebraska, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.