Chrisopher Kliment suffered a heart attack when officers restrained his hands and feet behind behind his back at California Pacific Medical Center Mission Bernal Campus on the night of Jan. 5, 2019. (Courtesy SFPD)

Family sues over death of homeless man who suffered heart attack in police custody

Burris claims SFPD used excessive force against hospital patient seeking shelter bed

The father of a 31-year-old homeless man who died after being restrained by police at a hospital near the edge of the Mission District has filed a lawsuit against the city and county of San Francisco alleging excessive force.

Chrisopher Kliment suffered a heart attack when officers restrained his hands and feet behind behind his back at California Pacific Medical Center Mission Bernal Campus on the night of Jan. 5, 2019, according to the suit.

Attorneys argue that police caused Kliment to suffer cardiac arrest by “hog-tying” him face down and impairing his ability to breathe. He died in the Intensive Care Unit two days later after suffering a second heart attack.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court, seeks damages and asks a judge to weigh in on policies around police using force against homeless people.

John Burris, an attorney who is known for filing excessive force cases against police in the Bay Area and is representing the father, Michael Kliment, said the case comes down to disparate treatment of the homeless.

“You have a guy who obviously is in distress, he obviously doesn’t have means, and they get treated badly,” Burris said. “On its face, it seemed pretty outrageous.”

John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, said The City had not been served with the lawsuit and will address the complaint in court.

“The allegations don’t square with the facts as we understand them,” Cote said.

Kliment was taken to the hospital that evening after complaining of body aches to Tenderloin Police Station officers and asking for a blanket, according to a report on the death by the Medical Examiner’s Office. He was in an altered mental state.

Kliment told authorities “everything hurts” and acknowledged having used methamphetamine in the past, according the report. He was admitted to the hospital and later released with a plan to place him at a homeless shelter.

Attorneys say Kliment was waiting at the hospital for that shelter assignment when police began to question him. While it is unclear what led to the encounter, officers at some point handcuffed Kliment and brought him to the ground.

“They carried him out of the emergency area in the hog-tied and prone position,” attorneys wrote in the complaint. “Shortly thereafter, the officers noticed that Mr. Kliment was not moving or breathing.”

Officers and hospital staff tried to resuscitate Kliment for 25 minutes before he regained a pulse, according to the report. He was readmitted to the hospital with an “anoxic brain injury,” meaning that his brain lacked oxygen.

Kliment had a second heart attack the following day and died Jan. 7, attorneys said.

The Medical Examiner’s Office later found that methamphetamine and cannabis alongside the law enforcement restraint played a factor in his death.

An autopsy determined his death was a drug-related accident caused by “cardiopulmonary complications of methamphetamine and cannabinoid intoxication with law enforcement restraint,” according to the medical examiner’s report.

Burris said his office is in the early stages of investigating the incident, but disputed that the death was accidental rather than the result of intentional conduct by police.

Attorneys also noted that the autopsy found petechiae, or spots caused by blood vessels bursting, on his eyelids, which could be a sign of death by asphyxiation.

Kliment had run-ins with the law in the past. He allegedly threw his dog, a pit bull mix named Juicy, against a wall at Powell BART Station in March 2018. He was arrested in July 2018 for allegedly tossing and hitting Juicy months later.

That October, Southern Police Station also shared his booking photo on Twitter when Kliment was allegedly spotted casing a construction site at 11th and Folsom streets and arrested on an unrelated no bail warrant out of Pleasanton.

In addition to The City, the lawsuit names as defendants Police Chief Bill Scott, CPMC Mission Bernal and the doctor who treated Kliment.

The lawsuit claims wrongful death and medical negligence as well as excessive force and other causes.

“We are not able to comment on pending litigation,” said Ashley Boarman, a spokesperson for Sutter Health. “We take legal allegations very seriously and remain focused on the health and safety of our patients.”

The case remains under investigation including by the District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to charge any of the officers involved with a crime.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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