Mika Clabo cried out for help on July 25, 2022, while struggling to keep his head above the waters of the Tennessee River in Knoxville, a lawsuit says. For 13 minutes, he gasped and groaned as he tried to pull himself out of the water or free himself from vines that had ensnared him. , No one helped Clabo — not the four police officers who watched him struggle from a few feet away, not the two EMTs who were on the riverbank before his head went under, and not the restaurant employees and diners who pleaded with officers to help, or at least to let them try, the suit alleges, reports the Washington Post. Clabo drowned.
A year later, his mother is suing the city of Knoxville, its police chief and the four officers, accusing them of violating her son’s civil rights in a case of wrongful death. Kimberly Williams-Clabo alleges that the public employees contributed to her son’s drowning by not only refusing to make any serious attempt to rescue him but also warning private citizens not to do so. “Mika deserved better than what he got … from people who were supposed to be first responders,” said her lawyer, Lance Baker. “The first responders were essentially bystanders looking on.” In the days before the incident,Clabo, a 30-year-old master arborist, “lost everything” he had worked for over the previous two years: his new car, his self-esteem and his sobriety, the lawsuit says. As a teenager, Clabo became addicted to opioids and later turned to heroin to feed an addiction that led him to be incarcerated multiple times. He eventually became clean and “began the long, hard road to recovery,” but in the days leading up to his death, Clabo relapsed, the suit says.