PARK CITY — The father of a 13-year-old Park City boy who fatally overdosed on a synthetic painkiller is suing the city's police department and school district, claiming they withheld information about his two sons' exposure to drugs from him in the weeks leading up to the teenager's death.
The lawsuit filed by Robert Ainsworth, father of Ryan Ainsworth, on Tuesday afternoon names the Park City Police Department, Park City School District, and a handful of individual employees as defendants. The suit also names Ainsworth's older son and the estate of Ryan Ainsworth as plaintiffs.
In the suit, Ainsworth says police did not tell him that Ryan's 15-year-old brother and several of his friends were stopped by sheriff's deputies and found in possession of a dangerous synthetic opioid known as "pink" — the same substance that ultimately killed Ryan — two weeks before Ryan's overdose. The drug was manufactured in China and was not illegal in the United States at the time.
The suit also claims that police and school officials did not tell Ainsworth about evidence discovered after the death of Ryan's best friend, 13-year-old Grant Seaver, that indicated Ryan might be at risk of using the drug himself.
The defendants, the lawsuit argues, "had a duty to protect these children by advising Robert that his minor sons were in mortal danger."
Grant died from overdosing on the powerful drug analog, also known as U-44770, on Sept. 11, 2016; Ryan was found dead in his family's home from overdosing on the same drug two days later. The opioid had been purchased over the darknet by other Park City teenagers; two were later charged and convicted for ordering the drug before and after the 13-year-olds' deaths.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday suggests that the police department and school district could have prevented those deaths.
Ainsworth's older son and four of his friends were stopped by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office at a Best Buy store on Aug. 30, two weeks before Ryan's death and 12 days before Grant's death, according to the lawsuit. The teenagers were found in possession of a bottle of colorless liquid, the lawsuit alleges, originally reported to be Benadryl but later determined by police to be pink.
Park City police knew by at least Sept. 3 that the substance the teenagers were caught with was pink and not Benadryl, according to the lawsuit. But the lawsuit claims that police did not tell Ainsworth that his 15-year-old son and his friends were involved with the dangerous drug when they learned what it was.
On the day after Grant fatally overdosed, district officials urged Ainsworth to take Ryan to the emergency room, but did not tell him they had reason to believe Ryan was in danger of using the drug himself, according to the suit — leading Ainsworth to believe district officials were only concerned that Ryan might be suicidal following his friend's death.
The lawsuit claims that by that time, school officials knew that Ryan might be at risk of using pink himself because police had found messages on Grant's computer in which Grant and Ryan talked about Grant using pink at school while Ryan was present.
"By concealing from Robert (Ryan)’s recent contact with Grant Seaver and probable contact with (the drug), defendants deprived Robert of important knowledge that he needed in order to protect his sons," the lawsuit states.
District officials did, however, tell Ainsworth in the meeting that Grant may have used the drug, the lawsuit says. The district and the police department also sent out a joint email to the community that same evening to warn parents about recent pink overdoses in Utah and to urge them to call law enforcement if they thought their children might be in possession of it, according to the suit.
By the time he went to bed on Sept. 12, Ainsworth had "thoroughly searched" his home and his sons' possessions and had both of his sons medically evaluated, according to the lawsuit. These efforts did not yield any indication that Ryan might possess or use pink, the lawsuit says, though it notes that Ainsworth could not tell medical providers about the possibility that Ryan had used pink because he was not aware at the time that his son had access to the drug.
The suit also alleges that Grant's parents wanted to call Ainsworth after Grant's death to warn him that Ryan may have been using pink as well, but the Park City Police Department instructed them not to call, saying it was law enforcement's responsibility to notify the family.
"Not only did the defendants take no action to inform Robert of these dangers, they went one step further and instructed the Seavers and other school officials not to contact him," the lawsuit states. "This prevented Robert from rendering aid to his children … who were in imminent danger."
The Park City School District declined to comment on the lawsuit, as it does not comment on litigation. A spokesman for the Park City Police Department said he had only learned of the lawsuit late Tuesday afternoon through the media and directed the Deseret News to the city attorney's office.
Park City Mayor Andy Beerman said in a statement that the city would not comment on the lawsuit itself, but offered his "heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of these children, and my support to the men and women of the Park City Police Department who are tasked with the heavy burden as first responders to these tragedies."
"In this matter we've had no reason but to be proud of the manner in which they assisted our families and community, and while we've had no prior indication of claims against the department, we will evaluate and respond accordingly in due course," Beerman said.