ST. LOUIS • The parents of Nicholas Gilbert, who died after a struggle with St. Louis police in a holding cell last December, are seeking up to $1.5 million in damages in a federal wrongful death suit against the city and 10 officers.
Jody Lombardo and Bryan Gilbert filed suit Thursday in federal court in St. Louis alleging city police officers caused Gilbert’s death by using excessive force to restrain him and failing to seek medical attention for an “emotionally disturbed” man. The suit alleges police were reckless, ignored their own training and policies, and were indifferent to Gilbert’s need for medical care.
Gilbert was being held Dec. 8 at the Central Patrol Division headquarters after an arrest for trespassing in a vacant building in the 3200 block of Missouri Avenue. Police have said that about 6:30 p.m., a clerk at the station alerted officers after seeing the man taking off his sweatpants and turning them into a noose, which the man tied to the bars of the holdover cell.
“This was a guy who was in a cell by himself and unarmed,” said Andrew Callahan, an attorney for Lombardo and Bryan Gilbert. “He posed no threat to anyone else and if they had just taken his sweatpants away, he would’ve posed no threat to himself.”
Three officers rushed into the cell to subdue Gilbert with handcuffs and leg restraints. As many as six to eight officers were part of the struggle. In the struggle, Gilbert hit his head on the concrete bench in the 7-by-9-foot cell, police have said. The lawsuit says Gilbert’s head “was struck with such force that he sustained a laceration above his eye and immediately began bleeding profusely.”
Only after Gilbert “was in handcuffs, leg shackles, and in a prone position, bleeding from his head and on the concrete floor” did police call for medical attention, the lawsuit says.
Police have said the officers noticed the man couldn’t breathe, administered CPR and used a defibrillator. Emergency workers took over revival efforts and took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The St. Louis medical examiner has said the 27-year-old’s injuries were consistent with the police description of the stationhouse scuffle to thwart a suicide attempt.
At the time of the incident, cameras at the three area stations had provided live monitoring but were not capable of recording. Callahan said that “hurts the search for truth.”
In addition to the city, the lawsuit names Sgt. Roland Bergmann along with Officers Joe Stuckey Paul Wactor, Michael Cognasso, Kyle Mack, Erich vonNida, Bryan Lemons, Zachary Opal Jason King and Roland DeGregorio.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson declined to comment.
Nassim Benchaabane and Christine Byers of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.