The father of a man who drowned in Back Cove last year has sued the city of Portland, two Portland police officers and an unnamed firefighter, alleging the officers caused the wrongful death of his son.

Verne Paradie Jr., a Lewiston-based attorney, said he filed the wrongful-death lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of John Cohen, the father of Eric Cohen. John Cohen lives in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

Eric Cohen, 25, drowned in the frigid waters of Portland’s Back Cove on the afternoon of April 12, 2020, after he ran into the water naked around 1:23 p.m. The lawsuit says that Cohen “was experiencing some form of psychosis” at the time. The air temperature that day was about 41 degrees.

Portland police said that Cohen, who had a history of mental health issues, got into an argument with his girlfriend that day while the couple was walking down Marginal Way near the Miss Portland Diner. Police say that Cohen unexpectedly stripped off his clothes. His girlfriend began to pick up his clothing and attempted to calm him down, but Cohen beat her unconscious and assaulted a bystander who intervened.

After the assault was interrupted, Cohen fled behind the diner and across Interstate 295. He then jumped into Back Cove. Firefighters pulled him from the water 24 minutes later and took him to Maine Medical Center. He was unresponsive and could not be revived, and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The lawsuit claims that Portland police and firefighters could have done more to save Cohen’s life. The city of Portland, Sgt. Christopher Gervais, Sgt. Michael Rand and John Doe, an unidentified Portland firefighter, are named in the suit as defendants. Paradie said that he has not yet been able to identify the firefighter. The suit asks the court to award Cohen’s father compensatory and punitive damages. Paradie said the courts would determine the amount.


Paradie alleges that the officers’ decision to call for the city fireboat, Marine Rescue 3, to assist with the rescue put Cohen’s life in jeopardy. Cohen was in waist-deep water about 30 feet from shore, according to the lawsuit. A group of about nine officers and fire-rescue personnel were on the shore awaiting the arrival of the fireboat.

“No personnel on shore made any attempt to rescue Mr. Cohen, though the means and equipment (rope, rings, life jackets, etc.) necessary to do so were available,” the suit alleges.

The fire boat arrived about 20 minutes after Cohen entered Back Cove, but by that time Cohen was face down in the water, according to the lawsuit. The fireboat transported Cohen to shore. He was transported by ambulance to Maine Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The state medical examiner ruled that Cohen’s manner of death was an “accident” and listed the causes of death as drowning and hypothermia, Paradie states in the suit.

David Singer, the spokesman for the Portland Police Department, said he is unable to comment on active or pending litigation.

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