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Estate of woman who died after telling officers she could not breathe during struggle at church sues city, IMPD

Incident occurred at northeast-side church in February 2019
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Posted at 11:19 AM, Feb 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 12:33:39-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The estate of a woman who died after she told police she could not breathe while being restrained on the floor of a northeast-side church is suing the city, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the officers and the church where the incident occurred.

Eleanor Northington, 43, died in February 2019 after police were called to intervene while she suffered a mental health crisis during a service at Mt. Calvary Apostolic Church on East 42nd Street.

Officers handcuffed Northington and restrained her face-down on the church's shag carpet during the struggle on Feb. 7, 2019, the lawsuit says. At one point, an officer placed a knee on Northington's back.

The complaint says Northington told officers she could not breathe, but she was ignored and suffocated to death in the shag carpeting.

In the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Indiana's Southern District court, the estate's lawyer, Larry Pleasants, wrote the city and IMPD violated Northington's Fourth and 14th Amendment rights by using excessive force to restrain her.

"That excessive force caused Ms. Northington to suffocate to death," the lawsuit said. "Defendants should have known that handcuffing a massively obese woman, face down in shag carpet, would likely cause serious injury or death."

The lawsuit also blames Mt. Calvary Apostolic Church for her death because a pastor placed a cloth over Northington's mouth.

Northington died Feb. 9, 2019, at Eskenazi Hospital after she was taken off life support.

Pleasants is seeking a jury trial in the case.

A spokesperson for the City of Indianapolis Office of Corporation Counsel, which provides legal counsel to city-county agencies, said, "Out of respect for the judicial process, we do not comment on pending litigation."

WRTV has reached out to Pleasants and Mt. Calvary Apostolic Church for comment.

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