Family files suit against 2 officers for in-custody death

A 2008 mug shot of James Ronald Dunigan from the Michigan Department of Corrections.
A 2008 mug shot of James Ronald Dunigan from the Michigan Department of Corrections.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The family of the man who died in police custody has filed a federal lawsuit against two officers.

The federal complaint filed Friday by an attorney representing the family of James Dunigan listed Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety officers Derek Nugent and Eric Shaffer as the defendants. The department itself was not listed in the suit.

The two officers arrested Dunigan on May 6 when he refused to leave the emergency room at Bronson Methodist Hospital. The family has also filed a federal lawsuit against the hospital for violation of emergency medical treatment and Active Labor Act.

The suit alleges Dunigan went to the emergency room in early morning hours of May 6 complaining of chest pain. He refused to leave the hospital and, according to suit, he was unable to get himself out of a wheelchair and showed obvious signs of weakness and pain. He was arrested by the officers on a trespassing complaint and an outstanding warrant.

The lawsuit argues the officers showed indifference to Dunigan’s serious medical needs even while he was visibly foaming at the mouth, breathing heavily and complaining of pain. According to the lawsuit, one of the officers said, “I don’t know if you’re faking or what, but you’re good to go to county.”

According to the court documents, at 6:47 a.m. while in the backseat of a KPDS cruiser, Dunigan continued to foam at the mouth and the officers ignored his medical needs.

Surveillance video shows Dunigan on the floor of the cruiser, foaming at the mouth. At one point during the drive to the jail, one of the officers checked on Dunigan. In the video, the officer can be heard telling Dunigan, “You’re fine, you’re acting.”

The medical examiner’s office determined Dunigan’s death was accidental. The ME said he died from a combination of heart and circulation problems, diabetes and kidney disease.

Both officers received a one-day suspension for failing to recognize Dunigan’s condition and not getting him medical treatment.

The estate contends Dunigan suffered damages including pain, suffering and death. The estate is asking for compensation for severe emotional injuries, mental anguish, economic loss, medical expenses, punitive damages, attorney fees and costs, burial expenses and other damages allowable under the Michigan Wrongful Death Act.

KDPS Chief Jeff Hadley told 24 Hour News 8 Friday night he was unable to comment on any pending litigation.