Last year, a 75 year old man suffering from Alzheimer’s was aggressively arrested and pepper sprayed after he was discovered wandering within the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell, NJ. He was left blind as a result of the pepper spray and spent the last 10 months of his life never again able to see his daughters. According to a lawsuit filed this month in Passaic County court, Angel Pantoja was freely roaming the halls at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehab, where he was a resident. For unknown reasons, nursing home staff alerted local police that a resident was on the loose within the facility, exaggerating his behavioral and health status enough to lead police to believe that forceful arrest measures were necessary. When the responding officer came across Mr. Pantoja in a hallway, they claimed he was carrying an unidentified weapon and advancing towards the officer, justifying his use of pepper spray. The pepper spray blinded him, a pre-arrest tactic that the lawyer for his estate deemed unnecessary. As a result, Mr. Pantoja was hospitalized and was blind until he died 10 months later. He was also arrested and charged with assault, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. The responding officer said in a statement that he was led to believe that Mr. Pantoja was dangerous because the facility told him Mr. Pantoja had stabbed one of his own daughters in the eye, a claim his daughter denies.
While family acknowledges that the pepper spray was not Mr. Pantoja’s cause of death, the complaint filed by his family against both the local police and the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehab says they are seeking damages for their father having to “sustain mental anguish, distress and damage. [He] was never able to open his eyes again and was not able to see his daughters in his time of passing.”
Local Police Trained to Handle Situations Involving Those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia