U.S. judge dismisses lawsuit centered on death of Park City teen from opioid overdose
Case deemed to be tragic, but the ruling sides with School District and Police Department
A United States District Court judge recently dismissed a lawsuit filed by the father of a Park City teen who died in 2016 from an opioid overdose.
Robert Ainsworth in 2019 filed the lawsuit on behalf of himself, the estate of the late Ryan Ainsworth and another child, identified in court documents as JA. The case was brought against the Park City Police Department, the Park City School District, employees of the department and the district as well as unnamed individuals.
Ryan Ainsworth was one of two 13-year-old students at Treasure Mountain Junior High School who died within days of each other from overdoses of an opioid called U-47700, which is often called “Pink” or “Pinky.”
In a 20-page decision, Judge Howard Nielson Jr. acknowledged the difficult circumstances that led to the lawsuit.
“The facts of this case are indeed tragic. Mr. Ainsworth lost his teenage son to a dangerous substance. And perhaps RA’s death could have been avoided if the Defendants had acted differently. Although the court feels deep sympathy for Mr. Ainsworth’s loss, the facts alleged here do not establish a constitutional violation under controlling precedent,” the judge wrote in summarizing the decision.
The lawsuit claimed the defendants were aware the drug was present but did not disclose the information. The filing outlined a timeline covering the nearly two weeks prior to the first death and said neither the Police Department nor the School District took appropriate steps to provide information to the elder Ainsworth or the parents of other students.
In one key section of the ruling, the judge wrote “… school officials played no role in RA’s tragic death, which occurred neither on school property nor during school hours, but at the Ainsworth home during the night. Nor are there any allegations that U-47700 was sold, distributed, or used during school time and on school property — let alone that school officials facilitated or even were aware of such activity.
“To be sure, school officials did eventually learn of the dangers of U-47700, and they took some steps to protect the Ainsworths from this deadly substance,” the ruling said.
The judge also addresses the Police Department role, writing “the police responded to a series of tragic events by investigating, withholding some information until the investigation was complete but providing other information through a community drug alert that identified U-47700 and warned of its dangers, and discouraging two emotional parents from calling another parent.”
“Law enforcement officers often have legitimate reasons to keep quiet about an ongoing investigation, such as not releasing unconfirmed information that may fuel false or inaccurate rumors, avoiding tipping off targets who might destroy evidence or flee, and protecting victims’ privacy,” the ruling said.
The two deaths put the Park City area on edge as law enforcement and other officials attempted to determine whether there was a continuing threat in the community.
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