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City of Portland, three first responders facing wrongful death lawsuit

The lawsuit was initiated by the father of Eric Cohen who died in April of 2020; the family’s attorney says he believes his death could have been prevented.

PORTLAND, Maine — The family of a man who froze to death after jumping into Portland’s Back Cove is suing the city.

The lawsuit claims that first responders were not willing to help Eric Cohen and that is what led to his death. This happened in April of 2020, when they responded to a report that Cohen was assaulting his girlfriend. His lawyer and family say the situation quickly turned into a mental health crisis.

When officers initially arrived on scene, they say Cohen stripped off his clothes, ran under the I-95 ramp and jumped into the water. According to the lawsuit, a longtime member of the United State’s Coast Guard offered to pull him out but had to wait for his supervisor’s approval. 

Cohen was in the water for around thirty minutes before emergency responders got into the water and pulled his body out.

The family’s lawyer says he doesn’t see why there was much reason for responders to wait.

“The well-trained officer knew that he was not going to make it and they just kept waiting for the rescue boat which seem to take it sweet time getting there,” the Cohen family’s attorney, Verne Paradie said. “Mr. Cohen was being chased by the police but was clearly in distress and could’ve been saved and was clearly not armed he was completely naked.”

According to his father, John Cohen, Eric relocated to Maine last year to clean up his act, so to speak. He says his son struggled with addiction but was determined to make a better life for himself and his daughter.

“He was just a free spirited, happy young man,” his father, John Cohen said. “He had so much to live for and so much to offer.” 

The man’s father says he hopes this will help first responders learn to better deal with mental health crisis’s.

The city of Portland would not comment on the case while it’s ongoing, which is standard procedure. 

This story will be updated.

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