The father of a man who drowned in Portland’s Back Cove three years ago is appealing a federal judge’s decision to dismiss his complaint against the city and a first responder.

John Cohen of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, filed a notice of appeal in U.S. District Court on Thursday, three days after Judge Nancy Torresen ruled Cohen’s lawsuit didn’t raise enough evidence for a jury to consider his allegations that the city and firefighter Ronald Giroux Jr. caused his son’s death.

Cohen filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, Giroux and two Portland police officers in 2021, a year after his son Eric Cohen, 25, died of hypothermia and drowning after swimming into the frigid waters of Back Cove. The younger Cohen had just beaten his girlfriend, who told police he had a history of mental illness and had not been taking his medication.

Cohen alleged the defendants not only failed to save his son, but that their actions made the situation more dangerous and contributed to his death. He also alleged the city failed to adequately train police on how to intervene in mental health situations.

The lawsuit claimed Giroux was recorded on multiple body cameras saying to other emergency responders, “tell him we’re gonna kick his ass if he gets out of that water.”

Giroux has said in court documents that he did not make those statements.


Torresen ruled last week that Cohen didn’t offer enough evidence for a jury to reasonably find that first responders’ actions contributed to Eric Cohen’s death, and that the city’s training is adequate. She said the Portland Police Department already trains its officers on mental health crisis intervention, beginning with a one-time 40-hour training course developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

She had already dismissed his claims against officers Michael Rand and Christopher Gervais last May. Portland police spokesperson Brad Nadeau said the officers are not commenting on the case. Gervais is no longer with the department.

Portland’s attorney Kasia Park said Monday that the city is disappointed at the prospect of an appeal.

“The City recognizes that this was a tragedy and again sends its condolences to the family of Eric Cohen for their loss,” Park wrote in an email. “While the City and all of the first responders involved that day wish the rescue efforts had been successful, we feel the Court was correct in its thoughtful decision finding that neither the City nor any City employee caused Mr. Cohen’s death or otherwise violated his constitutional rights.”

Cohen couldn’t be reached through his attorney, Verne Paradie.

Paradie said they still believe the body camera evidence is strong.


“We believe the videos by themselves show a clear breach of the officers’ duties and that their training records show the City had not trained them in accordance with their training policies,” Paradie wrote in an email. “We understand that lawsuits against cities and police officers are difficult given the multiple layers of immunity that they are provided, but believe that simple review of the videos showed the officers could and should have saved Mr. Cohen’s life.”

Eric Cohen ran into the water on April 12, 2020, after running away from police near the Miss Portland Diner. Portland police said he had beat his girlfriend unconscious and assaulted a bystander who intervened.

Cohen fled across Interstate 295 and then jumped into the 42-degree water. The complaint describes a young man struggling against frigid waters for 24 minutes, in need of rescue but instead he faced a line of hostile officers along the shore.

None of the responders waiting on shore had equipment to help Cohen, like blankets, but they had a K-9 and “a less than lethal weapon, in case Cohen came out of the water and continued to be combative,” Torresen wrote. Police didn’t request an ambulance for him until they got him onto the boat, according to court records.

The city and Giroux have said they were doing the best they could to help. Police did try to coax Cohen out of the water, they argued. A supervising officer who was on the scene said in court records that he didn’t send a swimmer out of concern that Eric Cohen was still violent. Giroux said he only knew Cohen was a suspect involved in an assault.

Cohen arrived at Maine Medical Center about an hour after running into the water, according to court records, and was later pronounced dead.

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