A 77-year-old Korean War veteran with Alzheimer’s disease who wandered away from the Montana Veterans Home in Columbia Falls was shocked by police with a stun gun, fell face-first on pavement and died in a hospital about three weeks later, a lawsuit filed by the man’s granddaughter charges.
According to the complaint filed April 5 in District Court in Helena, Stanley L. “Stan” Downen was admitted to the state-run home on May 31, 2012, “with a history of behavioral issues and advanced dementia resulting from severe progressive Alzheimer’s disease.”
The next day, he wandered off. Staff members tried to bring him back, but “instead agitated Stanley and escalated the situation,” the lawsuit charges.
The staff called 911 and Columbia Falls police responded, according to the complaint. When Downen still refused to cooperate, an officer stunned him with a stun gun and he fell face-first into the pavement and struck his head, according to the complaint.
“An ambulance arrived … to find Stanley handcuffed and lying face down in the middle of the street,” the complaint says. “Care providers noted several abrasions to Stanley’s hands and forehead, and extensive injuries over his left eye with swelling and an abrasion on his scalp.”
He was placed in a cervical collar and on a backboard before being taken to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, according to the complaints.
“Nursing staff from the Montana Veteran’s Home called to inform Stanley’s family that he had tripped and fallen while running, and that he was taken to the hospital,” the complaint says. “It was not until two days later that Stanley’s family discovered Stanley had been tased by the police.”
He died on June 24, 2012, due to injuries from the fall, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit was filed by Downen’s granddaughter, Tamara Downen, of Columbia Falls, representing his estate.
The suit alleges negligence and wrongful death by the nursing home, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and the Columbia Falls Police Department. It also charged the home with medical and nursing malpractice and accuses the police of assault and battery.
It demands unspecified damages, including punitive damages against the police department.
A DPHHS spokesman said the department would not comment on ongoing litigation. An attorney representing Columbia Falls said the city had not been served with the suit and declined immediate comment.
An attorney for Downen with the Missoula firm Milodragovich, Dale and Steinbrenner also said he could not comment on ongoing litigation.
Stan Downen was born in Westby in 1934, and his family moved to Browning, then Coram and then Columbia Falls, according to his obituary in the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell.
He served in active duty in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War on the USS Newport News, according to the obituary,
He was an ironworker for nearly 30 years, working for a time in South Africa and also worked at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. until his retirement in 1998, according to the obituary.
He was also a charter member of the North Valley Search and Rescue team and, along with other iron-workers, built several playgrounds in the Flathead Valley, according to the obituary.