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Schenectady to consider settlement in Andrew Kearse in-custody death lawsuit

Schenectady to consider settlement in Andrew Kearse in-custody death lawsuit

Kearse's widow filed the lawsuit a year ago
Schenectady to consider settlement in Andrew Kearse in-custody death lawsuit
Angelique Kearse speaks at Schenectady police headquarters at a February 2018 rally

SCHENECTADY — The City Council has passed a motion paving the way for the city’s Corporation Counsel to negotiate a settlement for a lawsuit filed against the city after Andrew Kearse's death in city police custody in 2017.

“We will give authority to the Corporation Counsel to settle the case," Vince Riggi, chair of the city's Claims Committee said. 

Riggi said the motion carries the provision that the city's out-of-pocket contribution to the settlement will not exceed the deductible, which is $100,000 for police-related claims. 

City officials declined to discuss a possible settlement amount.

Riggi said the full City Council will vote on the measure July 22.

Any eventual settlement would require mayoral approval, he said. 

Kearse, 36, of the Bronx, died after fleeing a traffic stop May 11, 2017. Kearse became unresponsive en route to the station after informing the officer he couldn't breathe and called out for help dozens of times.

His widow, Angelique Negroni-Kearse, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

Corporation Council Carl Falotico said on Monday he would offer the City Council a status update, but declined to provide additional details. 

He categorized negotiations as “pending.”

Negroni-Kearse’s attorney Sanford Rubenstein said the two sides failed to reach an agreement during the mediation process. 

Her initial notice of claim sought $25 million in damages. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Albany asks for damages “in an amount to be determined at trial.”

Rubenstein declined to discuss a specific dollar amount.

“Ultimately a jury will determine the amount to which we are entitled,” he said.

A grand jury declined to file charges against a city police officer in connection with the death, which was ruled to be due to cardiac arrhythmia. 

The attorney general’s office launched an investigation and a final report revealed Kearse's heart issues stemmed from a pre-existing medical condition. An expert cardiologist concluded his condition deteriorated rapidly, but a limited window existed where medical intervention could have saved his life. 

The state's top legal office recommended systemic changes in how police departments around the state handle medical emergencies, saying the man's death "never should have happened."

The office also recommended the Schenectady Police Department become accredited. The department aims to complete the process this year, but have said work began prior to Kearse’s death.

His death resembled that of Eric Garner, who died after being subdued by police on Staten Island in 2014.

Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” have become a rallying cry for activists seeking police reform.

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