Hospital is sued by kin of patient killed by deputies


The grandmother of Zachary Taylor Anderson, the 29-year-old Sebastian computer engineer who was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies two years ago while awaiting treatment for a mental breakdown in the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital Emergency Department, has sued the hospital for wrongful death and gross negligence.

Arlene Anderson, 89, of Sebastian filed suit on March 26, claiming the hospital failed to restrain her grandson and keep him safe. Records show Zachary Anderson was left unattended in a hallway, that he grabbed scissors and acted erratically, putting himself and others in harm’s way.

According to Sheriff Eric Flowers and court records, Anderson, had been brought to the Emergency Department by his aunt Ellen Fulks of Sebastian earlier that day for a mental health evaluation. Fulks said Anderson had attempted to hang himself and had multiple cuts to his body, so she drove him to the hospital, which has an adjacent behavioral health unit.

“He loved everybody and was well-loved by his family. And he had a lot of friends. He helped a lot of those friends start businesses,” Fulks said of her nephew. “He was very bright. He was a very successful lead computer engineer at the company he worked for. He was 29 and very successful for his age.”

But that spring, Zachary Anderson’s life had taken a turn. Fulks said Anderson’s ex-girlfriend had him served with a protection order. Soon after, he seemed depressed and started drinking more. Under the Florida Mental Health Act, commonly called the Baker Act, a family member, doctor, or law enforcement officer may have a person who is a danger to himself or others held involuntarily for up to 72 hours at a mental health facility.

Arlene Anderson’s complaint says that the hospital had an “affirmative duty” to provide security measures that protect Baker Acted patients from harming themselves or others and failed to provide that security.

Raquel G. Rivas, communications specialist for Cleveland Clinic Florida, said the hospital does not comment on pending litigation. Shortly after the shooting, Cleveland Clinic released this statement:

“On Saturday, March 26, 2022, an incident occurred at the Indian River Hospital Emergency Department. While at our facility, a patient behaved in a threatening manner which resulted in the use of deadly force by deputies who were already on site. This incident is under investigation, and we are cooperating with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.”

Cleveland Clinic emergency room staff had referred Zachary Anderson to a mental health facility in Port St. Lucie, but he was denied admission there and was brought back to the Vero hospital. Ana Melbourne was the nurse on duty that night assigned to Anderson in the Cleveland Clinic Emergency Department.

Hospital staff reported to investigators that Anderson was calm when he was brought in.

Anderson was placed in Room 1, Melbourne said. He was placed in Room 1 again when he returned from Port St. Lucie but was later moved to a stretcher outside Room 1, she said.

Detective Craig Thimmer and deputies Hunter Evans, Shane Joerger, and another deputy whose name was redacted from the report were at the hospital responding to a separate incident. The deputies were in the hall outside ER Room 15 when Evans first saw Zachary Anderson in the hallway of the hospital with both arms down at his side.

According to a Sheriff’s Department Case Report, at about 10:30 p.m., Anderson was sitting alone, unattended, on a hospital gurney in a hallway of the bustling emergency room.

Hospital video shows Zachary Anderson getting up off the gurney, grabbing a pair of scissors from the pocket of Registered Nurse Sheyla Yuen, who was standing near the nurses’ station, and running down the hallway.

Arlene Anderson’s lawsuit says Yuen knew that Anderson was being held under the Baker Act and should have been aware of the danger that Anderson posed to himself and others, and that hospital staff had an obligation to prevent him from accessing hazardous objects.

The deputies saw Anderson heading for the exit and yelled at him to stop. When the four deputies moved toward him, Zachary Anderson turned, and raised his right hand “up towards his head in a stabbing motion,” Evans wrote in the report. “At this point in time, I felt that my life and the lives of others present was (sic) in immediate danger,” Evans wrote.

“Deputy Joerger reached out to grab Anderson, at which time Anderson turned, raised his hand while holding the scissors, and (Thimmer) believed Anderson was going to stab Deputy Joerger,” Det. Thimmer reported. The deputies then began backing up, then Joerger and the unidentified deputy shot Zachary Anderson, according to the report. Once Anderson fell to the floor, Thimmer took the scissors out of his hand.

Joerger said he was “within arm’s length” of Zachary Anderson holding the scissors and “was in fear that he was going to be stabbed.” Joerger was carrying a taser, but said “there were no options, aside from lethal force, to stop Anderson from stabbing him.” The incident was captured on Evans’ body-worn camera, but not on the cameras of the deputies who fired their weapons. One camera malfunctioned, the other was turned off.

Zachary Anderson was shot five times – under his chin, in his left shoulder, on the left side of his chest, and twice in his left arm. He was moved from the hallway to Room 14 where he died minutes later and was pronounced dead at the scene.

A grand jury convened on June 28, 2023, but did not find enough evidence to indict any of the officers. The Sheriff’s Office closed the case and cleared it as a justified homicide.

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