Wrongful death suit filed in 2015 death of man in custody

A Reno attorney has filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging Washoe County Sheriff deputies used excessive force on a 31-year-old man in August of 2015.

According to a news release from Reno attorney Terri Keyser-Cooper, Niko Smith was taken into custody at a bail bonds business after claiming that his girlfriend was trying to poison him with a peanut butter cup with rocks in it.

Smith also complained of severe stomach cramps and stated he was "bleeding internally" and "wanted to die." The bail bondsman called 911.

According to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Smith's one, when officers arrived, Smith complained to the Smith complained to the bail bondsman the officers wanted to kill him, pleading with the bail bondsman not to let the officers kill him.

Once Smith was taken to jail, he was so agitated, frightened and delusional that he could not be properly interviewed or evaluated. According to the lawsuit, Smith spoke to intake officials of his fear that officers would kill him.

Smith was placed in a cell and monitored. Smith continuously paced and moved: Sitting and kneeling on the floor, rocking back and forth, talking incoherently and dunking his head in the toilet. Finally, when Smith attempted to hang himself, deputies rushed in to prevent his death. Other deputies rushed in, attempting to move Smith to a more protected room where he could not harm himself. The deputies’ reports indicate Smith repeatedly pleaded with the officers: “Please don’t kill me.”

Yet the lawsuit alleges the officers did just that. In their effort to place Smith in a restraining garment six to eight officers, all captured on video, surrounded the prone Smith with two kneeling with their full weight on Smith’s back and cutting off his ability to breathe. By the time the officers noticed Smith was not breathing, medical staff was called in to resuscitate him. Smith never regained consciousness.

Smith’s death certificate specifies the death was a homicide with complications of excited delirium and Methamphetamine intoxication.

The lawsuit is filed by two Reno lawyers, Terri Keyser-Cooper and Luke Busby. The lawyers stated, “At each step of the interactions with Smith, the deputies were required by Washoe County policy to call for medical staff which they failed to do. They were in such a hurry to stop Smith from killing himself, and to get him into the protective garment, they violated all their internal procedures and killed him. What makes this case particularly difficult is Smith kept pleading with the officers not to kill him and they did precisely that.”

Here is the full complaint

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