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Bipolar man sues lifeguard, law enforcement after they save him from drowning

A man who tried drowning himself at a Virginia pool during a ‘bipolar’ episode is suing the police officers and a lifeguard who saved his life
UPDATED JAN 23, 2020
(Source: Getty Images)
(Source: Getty Images)

Two years ago, when Mateusz Fijalkowski was made the assistant manager of a pool in Fairfax, Virginia, he did not know how to swim and was barely able to speak any English.

Fijalkowski spent most of his time in the United States hospitalized after nearly drowning in the same pool while he was in the country on a summer programme all the way from Poland. And now, the 23-year-old has the gall to sue the lifeguard along with the law enforcement authorities who pulled him out and saved his life, reported The Washington Post.

Of course, the police are often sued for being brutal with mentally unstable people, but in this instance, they are being accused of "not doing enough" to take care of a man who was apparently going through a bipolar episode.

In a lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Virginia last week, Fijalkowski said that he was struggling underwater for more than two minutes and that police officers at the scene stopped a lifeguard from jumping in to help. However, the authorities maintain that they acted appropriately enough and thus were able to preserve the lives of both Fijalkowski and the lifeguard in question.

His lawsuit also claims that he had stopped breathing and had lost his pulse when the lifeguard eventually pulled him out.

“The police allowed me to sink before their eyes,” Fijalkowski said in an email, in Polish. “I’m glad that in the end, they realized that they shouldn’t let me drown, but I don’t thank them for letting me die, clinically, before their eyes.”

Fijalkowski said that his primary reason for filing the suit against the police is an outstanding amount of $100,000 in medical bills that he has to pay due to the episode.

“They saved his life – he did not die,” Fairfax County Police chief Edwin Roessler said. “You’re going to sue someone for saving your life?”

Mateusz Fijalkowski (above) who worked at Virginia’s Fairfax County, Riverside Apartments resident pool. (Fairfax County Police Department)

Roessler asserted that if the lifeguard or the officers had jumped in earlier, they would have been dragged under the water themselves.

Fijalkowski's complaint says that he had come to the United States through an international summer job programme. At the time, he was apparently told that he could work at a swimming pool, although he did not know how to swim. Back then, he claims that he had never had any mental health issues.

His suit also states that he began working as a pool attendant at the Riverside Apartments in Fairfax County three days after he arrived in the US, on May 26, 2016. Upon his assignment, Fijalkowski was trained to arrange deck chairs, check the water's pH level, and clean the pool.

According to the police report, Fijalkowski started acting strangely on the third day of work. He allegedly started arguing with guests and talking to himself in his mother tongue.

A lifeguard had to call the authorities when he once ripped off a girl's wristband and told her that she could not enter the pool.

Court filings stated that upon the police officers' arrival, the employee ignored them and continued blowing his pool whistle. In response, the police cleared the pool area and brought a Polish speaking officer along with Fijalkowski's roommate who was fluent in the language. Despite their efforts, he continually ignored them and kept shouting "I am the lifeguard."

During his mental episode, Fijalkowski threw his cell phone in the shallow end of the pool and went to retrieve it. He then climbed the lifeguard tower, shouted and blew his whistle again.

In a video captured by a bystander through the pool fence, Fijalkowski can be seen walking slowly towards the deep end of the pool until he is completely submerged in water. He then allegedly went to the bottom of the pool, grabbed two vents on the pool's floor and held himself down.

He stayed under water for more than two-and-a-half minutes as officers tried to communicate with him from outside the pool. Then, according to the video, a lifeguard accompanied Fijalkowski's supervisor in an attempt to pull him out.

Brooks was followed by quite a few officers into the water who helped him pull the victim out of the pool. They also performed CPR on him for a significant amount of time until paramedics arrived and used an electronic defibrillator to revive Fijalkowski.

The pool company, however, sided with Fijalkowski in claiming that the police would not let Brooks jump in until he had stopped moving. Authorities contended that they entered the pool as soon as they realized that he had stopped moving.

According to an EMS report provided by the plaintiff, Fijalkowski had vomited in the pool and suffered cardiac and respiratory arrest at the scene.

However, a hospital report obtained by Fijalkowski claimed that he had been under water for only 30 to 60 seconds.

The victim's attorney said that he was kept Fairfax Inova’s Heart and Vascular Institute until 8 June and then moved to the psychiatric unit for six days. It was then that he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder.

Fijalkowski now claims that he is back in Poland and has not had an episode since.

Having said that, Roessler defended the actions of his officers. He said that they were absolutely right in avoiding a physical confrontation with a man had been behaving erratically and violently.

“When someone’s having a mental episode, the last thing you want to do is go hands-on,” Roessler said. “You use time on your side to let the episode subside.”

But Fijalkowski's attorney, Victor Glasberg, asserted that the police are required to take distressed subjects into custody. He continued to say that they could have stopped him from getting into the pool the third time. 

According to Glasberg, Brooks has also been included in the suit for following the authorities' directions during the incident. 

“There’s no way to Monday morning quarterback this stuff,” Roessler said. “Everybody there saved this young man’s life.”