A Houston man who was shot by an off-duty police officer after checking into St. Joseph Medical Center last August is suing Houston police officers, the hospital and others for allegedly fabricating evidence to justify an unlawful shooting.
Filed Tuesday in Harris County District Court, Alan Pean's suit also names as defendants the City of Houston and police officers Oscar Ortega, Roggie Law, Steven Murdock, and Don Egdorf.
The lawsuit stems from the August 26, 2015 incident in which Pean, then 26, checked himself into the downtown hospital while in the midst of a mental health crisis. Pean, who had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, drove erratically to the hospital and crashed his car into other vehicles in St. Joseph's parking lot.
Pean was admitted for overnight observation, but when he was being discharged the following day, police later said, he became combative and security guards — moonlighting HPD officers — were summoned. One used a Taser on Pean, who was naked but who may have been armed with a hospital tray table, and the other shot Pean in the chest, millimeters from his heart. Pean was charged with two counts of aggravated assault, but a grand jury declined to indict. Prosecutors dropped a third charge of reckless driving.
The shooting drew more federal scrutiny from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, whose investigators were already looking into concerns over patient safety. The agency threatened to pull funding that could have shuttered the hospital unless St. Joseph's administrators fixed systemic problems that, according to investigators, put patients in "immediate jeopardy." (The Houston Chronicle reported in November that "more than 60 percent of St. Joseph's patients are covered by Medicare and Medicaid.")
The lawsuit alleges that, after Pean was shot, the officers "obstructed medical treatment for Mr. Pean and ultimately manufactured a story to try to explain why — under any circumstance — shooting an unarmed and naked man in his hospital room might be justified."
Pean is represented by the same attorneys who filed a far-reaching federal civil rights suit against HPD in 2014 for a spate of shootings of unarmed, mentally ill civilians, and the department's pro forma investigations that inevitably declare such shootings justified. No officials deposed in that trial so far could recall the last time a police shooting of an unarmed civilian has been deemed "unjustified."
In a press release, one of Pean's lawyers, Dax Faubus, claimed "sending improperly trained police officers into a patient's room — armed with guns, Tasers, and handcuffs, and not supervised or aided by healthcare professionals — escalated this incident and nearly cost Mr. Pean his life."
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The lawyers' allegations are graphic and disturbing, accusing the two responding officers — Law and Ortega — of calling "fellow HPD officers to the scene" instead of tending to Pean. When Pean's physician heard a "code blue" announced on the hospital's PA system, the suit alleges, he ran into the room and found Pean "lying on the floor covered by a drape. His eyes were closed and he was silent. No one was administering medical care to [Pean]."
The physician "removed the drape and observed bleeding wounds" on Pean's chest, and saw that Pean was handcuffed, according to the suit. When the physician "asked what happened, HPD officers first told him that [Pean] was Tasered. When he asked again — and then again — someone from the crowd of HPD officers confessed [that Pean] had been shot." The physician had to "demand multiple times" that the officers remove Pean's cuffs so that the physician could treat him, according to the suit.
As a cover for the officers, the suit alleges, lead HPD investigator Steven Murdock alleged that Pean attacked the officers "with deadly weapons," but it's still unclear what those weapons are. According to Pean's brother, Christian, Murdock said Pean had acted like a "Tasmanian devil" during the incident.
Citing the pending litigation, a spokesperson for the city's legal department declined comment.