Family of Man Who Died in Police Custody Sues City

First published in the March 5 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The parents of a man who died while in the custody of Burbank police sued the city recently, saying his death was the result of officers ignoring his medical needs after placing him in a jail cell.

The Burbank City Council authorized the City Attorney’s Office to defend the municipality and its officials in late February, according to City Attorney Joe McDougall, who declined to provide further comment. The targets of the suit, filed in late January by an attorney representing the parents of Scott Rosenfeld, include the council, Burbank Police Department Chief Michael Albanese and several unnamed police officers.

The plaintiffs’ filings provide little information regarding the circumstances of the death of Rosenfeld, who was Black, saying only that on or about Jan. 2, police arrested him while he was “exhibiting signs of both emotional and physical distress.” Stephen Yagman, a civil rights lawyer representing the plaintiffs, alleged in a court document that police were “deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs” by placing him in a jail cell and that Rosenfeld later died while in police custody.

Booking records indicate that Burbank police arrested the 48-year-old Rosenfeld the morning of Jan. 3 for a misdemeanor, and that he was “released” two days later due to his death, though the records list his race as white. A crime log listing from myBurbank said he was a Burbank resident arrested for being under the influence of a controlled substance.

A BPD spokesman referred requests for comment to the City Attorney’s Office. The police records department did not immediately respond to a public records request.

Among other claims, the lawsuit alleges that the police officers violated Rosenfeld’s Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and that the City Clerk’s Office denied the family’s claim for damages on Jan. 18. The class-action lawsuit also represents “persons who have been subject to Burbank police brutality.”

“Going back 40 years, the BPD has had a custom of Fourth and Eighth Amendment violations,” Yagman said in an email to the Leader, “and we intend to obtain information on all of them (as I only recall some of them), and then put before the jury whether or not a custom exists. The purpose is deterrence.”

Yagman declined to specify the alleged violations or Rosenfeld’s medical needs, saying that doing so at this point would be “imprudent,” but added, “people don’t just drop dead in jail without the police first observing that they need medical assistance and not rendering it.”

Rosenfeld’s parents are seeking a jury trial, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.