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Family of man who died in police cellblock files suit

Death two years ago was not reported by MPD

The Maui News

WAILUKU — The family of a man who died of alcohol withdrawal in a police cellblock is suing Maui County, alleging negligence in his death two years ago.

Eric Wittmer died in the early morning of June 12, 2017, three days after he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, according to the complaint filed this week in 2nd Circuit Court.

He was 58 years old.

After he was arrested at 8:10 p.m. June 9, 2017, Wittmer’s breath alcohol content was measured at 0.293 percent, the lawsuit says. The amount is more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

While Wittmer was held in a cell at the Wailuku Police Station, he “displayed the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, requiring clinical treatment that was not provided . . . ,” according to the lawsuit.

It says Wittmer “requested medical help at multiple times; was coughing and breathing heavily; was complaining of not feeling good; was observed to be shivering and sweating profusely; had a hard time breathing; was walking around shaking; and/or shaking in a manner that appeared to be a seizure.”

Police should have known Wittmer was going through alcohol withdrawal, the lawsuit says.

Police had a duty “to protect him from foreseeable harm and/or to come to his aid in the face of ongoing harm or medical emergency,” according to the lawsuit.

Wittmer died of alcohol withdrawal, the lawsuit says.

It was filed by Wailuku attorney Matthew Kohm on behalf of Geoffrey Wittmer, special administrator for his brother’s estate. In addition to Maui County, the Maui Police Department is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.

“Maui County has no comment at this time,” county spokesman Brian Perry said by email Thursday.

Police did not report Wittmer’s death at the time. But Wittmer was included in a September 2017 list of unclaimed bodies that was released by police.