Mateusz Fijalkowski, a Polish national, is suing the police department of Fairfax, Virginia, and a lifeguard who saved his life. His lawsuit contends that police and the lifeguard did not do enough to stop him while he was in the midst of a bipolar episode. In Fijalkowski’s court filing in the Eastern District court of Virginia last week, he argues that he was left underwater for more than two minutes, while eight police officers watched and then stopped a lifeguard from saving him.  

For their part, police say that the officers acted appropriately to protect themselves and the lifeguard from a disturbed person while also accomplishing Fijalkowski’s rescue. According to Fijalkowski’s suit, he had no pulse and was not breathing when he was pulled from a pool at an apartment complex in Fairfax. Facing more than $100,000 in medical bills, Fijalkowski is seeking restitution. 

Fairfax County police find Fijalkowski’s accusations to be incredible. 

Having entered the United States from his native Poland through an international summer job program, Fijalkowski took a job at the pool despite not knowing how to swim. Reportedly, he had no history of mental health problems. In May 2016, he began working at Riverside Apartments in Fairfax County, just three days after entering the country. After receiving training to check the water pH level, clean the pool, and arrange chairs on the deck, Fijalkowski began to exhibit strange behavior on the third day on the job. He argued with guests at the pool and muttering to himself in Polish. When he tore off a girl’s wristband and banned her from the pool, a lifeguard called the law. 

Fijalkowski ignored the police when they arrived but repeatedly blew his whistle, according to court documents. After the officers cleared guests away from the pool, Fijalkowski’s Polish-speaking roommate and a Polish-speaking officer came to assist. Fijalkowski chose to ignore them and instead shouted  “I am the lifeguard” while praying in Polish. He also tossed his mobile phone into the shallow end of the pool, retrieving it twice. 

In a third plunge, which was recorded in an amateur video, Fijalkowski waded into the deep end of the pool until he was completely submerged under the eight feet of water. A police report, provided by the plaintiff, indicated that Fijalkowski grabbed two drains at the pool bottom and held himself there.

The amateur video shows that Fijalkowski was submerged for more than two-and-a-half minutes while officers watched. Lifeguard Sean Brooks then dove into the pool and pulled Fijalkowski to safety. Assisting Brooks were several officers, who helped to drag Fijalkowski from the pool. Officers performed CPR until emergency medical technicians came to revive Fijalkowski with an electronic defibrillator. 

According to documents filed in court, police kept the lifeguard from jumping into the pool until Fijalkowski had stopped moving. Several officers reported that they entered the pool once they saw that Fijalkowski had stopped moving. 

Fijalkowski was in the care of Fairfax Inova’s Heart and Vascular Institute until June 8, 2016, and then moved to a psychiatric unit for six days. There he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He has since returned to Poland, where he is on meds. The lawsuit charges that police should have allowed the lifeguard to take action, or jumped in earlier to save Fijalkowski. The lifeguard is being sued for cooperating with police.

The J-1 immigrant exchange visa program, which is managed by the State Department, allows college and University students enrolled full time and pursuing studies at foreign post-secondary accredited academic institutions to come to the United States "to share their culture and ideas with people of the United States through temporary work and travel opportunities," according to the department website. 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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