Family of York Officer Alex Sable alleges wrongful death, sues Baltimore County, police

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York City Police Officer Alex Sable died Wednesday, May 9, 2018, after suffering a heart attack during training on Sunday, May 6. Photo courtesy of the Officer Down Memorial Page.

The widow and three minor children of York City Police Officer Alex Sable are suing Baltimore County, its police department and two of the department's officers, claiming Sable's death was preventable.

Alex Sable, 37, died in the line of duty May 9, 2018, following a cardiac arrest that happened three days earlier during a SWAT class in Baltimore County.

Sable was training to become a member of the York County Quick Response Team when he suffered a heart attack.

The lawsuit was filed July 31 in Baltimore County Circuit Court by Maryland attorney David Ellin on behalf of Sable's widow, son and two daughters. It seeks at least $1.8 million, which breaks down to 24 separate counts alleging negligence, failure to train and wrongful death. Each count asks for in excess of $75,000.

"It's a tragic situation, and we certainly think it's something that was preventable, had common sense simply prevailed," Ellin told The York Dispatch. "Based on our research to this point, we certainly believe the signs and symptoms of a life-threatening situation were there. The people handling the training didn't appreciate the gravity of those symptoms."

If they had, Ellin said, Sable might have survived.

Baltimore County Press Secretary T.J. Smith said there is no comment at this point on the pending litigation.

York City Police Officer Alex Sable died Wednesday, May 9, 2018, after suffering a heart attack during training on Sunday, May 6. Photo courtesy of the Officer Down Memorial Page.

The lawsuit: Sable was participating in a tactical team water exercise run by the Baltimore County Police Department at Baltimore County Community College on May 6, 2018. It was one of the classes the officer was taking so he could join York County's QRT, according to the lawsuit.

The exercise required trainees to tread water while fully clothed, with boots on, while passing weights back and forth or placing weights on their shoulders, then jogging around the pool after getting out, according to the lawsuit.

During the exercise, Sable was required to tread water for two minutes while fully clothed and holding a 10-pound weight on his shoulders, the suit states.

He was seen struggling during the exercise, and when he got out of the pool a Baltimore County medic observed Sable's face was pale and his lips were cyanotic, according to the lawsuit. Despite that, he continued the training.

During cyanosis, the skin turns a bluish shade due to lack of oxygen.

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After jogging around the pool, Sable went back in the water for another exercise near the end of the training day. This time he was instructed to tread water for 10 minutes while fully clothed, the suit states.

Sable went underwater and was there for about 10 seconds before he was pulled out, according to the lawsuit. At that point, his face was cyanotic and he had no pulse, according to the lawsuit.

Missing mask: A fire department transport medic was given a bag-valve manual resuscitator by Baltimore County Police medics to provide Sable with oxygen, but it was missing the mask, the suit alleges. It took several minutes to find a replacement, according to the lawsuit.

A memorial in honor of York City Police officer Alex Sable pays tribute in the foyer of the York City Police Department Thursday, May 10, 2018. Sable, 37, was participating in a SWAT tactical training exercise in Baltimore County, Maryland, where he suffered cardiac arrest and later died. Bill Kalina photo

Sable was taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center by ambulance, where it took 19 minutes to restart Sable's heart, the suit states.

He died at the hospital three days later, with his cause of death listed as cardiac arrhythmia, according to the lawsuit.

The two Baltimore County officers running the class were negligent when they failed to recognize that Sable was in severe distress after the 10-pound weight exercise, then failed to administer proper medical care, the lawsuit alleges.

That alleged negligence and alleged lack of training led to Sable's death, the lawsuit states.

Sable's widow, Rebeca Sable, lives in Lancaster County with their three children.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.