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Cops accused of standing by and watching man drown in Tennessee River

Police officers allegedly stood by and watched for 15 minutes as a man who relapsed on heroin drowned in the Tennessee River after fleeing from them, according to a newly filed lawsuit.

Kimberly Williams-Clabo claims her son, Mika Wheeler Clabo, would still be alive if it weren’t for the alleged negligence of the Knoxville Police Department, which encountered him “acting erratically” on the morning of July 25, 2022.

Police said that when they approached Clabo, 30, who struggled with a heroin addiction, he ran from them and jumped into the river, where he got caught on vines and drowned.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Williams-Clabo said the four officers at the scene “refused to make a single rescue attempt and inexplicably warned off private rescuers, resulting in the victim’s death by drowning.”

She is suing the officers, as well as the police chief, for violating her son’s civil rights and for wrongful death.

“Mika deserved better than what he got … from people who were supposed to be first responders,” the family’s lawyer, Lance Baker, told the Washington Post. “The first responders were essentially bystanders looking on.”

The Knoxville Police Department denied the allegations and said its officers followed proper protocol during the incident.

“While Mika Clabo’s death was undoubtedly tragic, the KPD officers involved did not respond inappropriately, and the city will vigorously defend this lawsuit,” the department said in a statement.

“The officers immediately called for assistance from additional specialized resources, and any suggestion that they prevented reasonable or safe attempts to rescue Mr. Clabo is not supported by the facts.”

Just four days before his death, Williams-Clabo had reported her son missing after he left a halfway house in the city. Clabo had been working on his sobriety for years but had suddenly relapsed.

Police received calls about the man after residents spotted Clabo being kicked out of a car in the city’s downtown area around 10 a.m. July 25, 2022, wearing only a T-shirt and underwear, according to the suit.

Responding officers found Clabo wandering a nearby railroad track, but when they approached him, the man fled and jumped into the river at about 10:14 a.m.

The officers called the Knoxville Fire Department for rescue and instructed him to swim to shore. The lawsuit states that one of the cops scoffed at the idea that Clabo was drowning.

Responding officers found Clabo wandering a nearby railroad track, but when they approached him, the man fled and jumped into the river at about 10:14 a.m.

The suit alleges that the officers just stood by as Clabo struggled to stay above water and screamed for help. It also claims that police warned concerned residents to stay away and not help the drowning man because they could get caught in the vines as well.

By 10:27 a.m., Clabo’s head vanished underwater, with the cops allegedly only commenting on it while not knowing what to do.

“[The officers] acted with no urgency whatsoever throughout the incident to respond to the life-or-death situation,” the lawsuit reads.

When the rescue boat arrived three minutes later, officials combed the area and found the man’s body tangled in vines mere inches below the surface.

Williams-Clabo is arguing for $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages.

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