Lawsuit claims Park City police, school district hid details that may have prevented teen’s death in synthetic opioid crisis

A Park City father says police and school officials suspected his 13-year-old had access to the synthetic opioid “Pink,” but withheld that information in the days leading up to the boy’s fatal overdose in 2016.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, Robert Ainsworth says police officers instructed school officials and the father of another boy who died not to tell him that his son, Ryan, was believed to be at risk of using the drug, also known as “pinky” or “U-47700.”

The lawsuit also shares details of Ryan’s last days, when his parents turned to multiple health care providers and school officials amid rising panic in Park City over drug use following two other overdose cases involving local teenagers and a drug that most parents had never heard of.

But, the lawsuit alleges, police and school officials knew Ryan likely was experimenting with a deadly substance and didn’t warn Ainsworth — and police prevented others from warning him. One officer later said in a deposition he wished he had alerted Ainsworth because it might have prevented Ryan’s death.

Park City School District officials declined to comment on the lawsuit; a police spokesman did not return The Tribune’s call for comment.

Pink was circulating among a group of students at Park City High School and Treasure Mountain Junior High in the fall of 2016 after teens ordered a supply of the drug from China via the “dark web,” police have said.

Summit County sheriff’s deputies seized a bottle of it on Aug. 30, 2016 from Ryan’s older brother and a group of his friends when officers stopped the teens at a Best Buy store, the lawsuit states — but the teens said the bottle contained benadryl.

However, a few days later, on Sept. 3, 2016, a teenager was hospitalized for a drug overdose — which, the lawsuit argues, should have made police aware that Pink was circulating among teens in Park City. Three days after that, another teenager’s mother texted Ainsworth that she had found a package from China with a label for sodium benzonate sulphate, or Pink.

Ainsworth did not know what sodium benzonate sulphate was, but he searched his home for drugs, the lawsuit states. Two days later, his older son, identified as “J.A.,” appeared to be intoxicated; J.A., 15, had overdosed on a drug a few months earlier, and Ainsworth asked J.A.’s therapist to evaluate him for possible drug use, according to the lawsuit. The therapist said she believed J.A. was simply sleepy.

A friend of J.A. later told police that he and J.A. had used Pink that day, the lawsuit states.

On Sept. 11, 2016, 13-year-old Grant Seaver died after he overdosed on Pink. Park City police seized Seaver’s computer, which contained chat messages between Seaver and Ryan that described Grant using Pink at school, in front of Ryan.

Seaver’s parents told police they intended to call Ainsworth to tell him that Ryan was probably using Pink, the lawsuit states — but the officers told the Seavers not to make that call because it was a police responsibility.

“I stopped an emotional parent calling and accusing another parent of doing something when it should be law enforcement's responsibility to make those connections and contacts,” Lt. Darwin Little said in a deposition. Seaver’s parents, James and Deborah, have sued Robert Ainsworth and Ryan’s mother, Jill Ainsworth.

The next day, officials at Park City High School and Treasure Mountain Junior High pulled both of the Ainsworth boys aside, and junior high administrators called Robert Ainsworth to the school. They said they had taken Ryan’s computer but didn’t explain why, the lawsuit states.

School counselor Nico Jensen told Ainsworth that police had told school employees not to disclose any details about Seaver’s death. School officials did tell Ainsworth that Seaver may have taken Pink, but they didn’t disclose his contact with Ryan; a day earlier, Ryan and his older brother told Ainsworth they hadn’t seen Seaver for at least three weeks, the lawsuit states.

School officials were visibly worried and told Ainsworth to take Ryan directly to a hospital emergency room, but they did not fully explain their concerns and “misdirected [Ainsworth] into thinking that their only concern was that [Ryan] might attempt suicide,” the lawsuit states.

“Defendants deprived Robert of important knowledge that he needed in order to protect his sons,” the lawsuit states. “Without knowledge of [Ryan’s] probable contact with or access to Pink, for example, Robert could not report this important fact to the medical personnel to whom he later took Ryan that very day.”

At the hospital, doctors screened Ryan for drugs, but when Ainsworth asked for a more detailed test, they said “it was nearly impossible to get that approved and would not likely detect any of the newer substances commonly used by kids,” the lawsuit states. Further tests were ordered, but the results wouldn’t be returned for several days.

Police “should have instructed local hospitals about the risk of U-47700 but failed to do so,” the lawsuit states.

From the hospital, Ainsworth tried to search online for details about “Pinky” but found no information, the lawsuit states. He texted school officials for more information and symptoms of use of the drug, but a counselor replied only that it also may be called U-47700 and described none of the symptoms or risks associated with it, the lawsuit states.

That night, police and school officials sent an email to parents warning that the drug had caused two deaths in other counties, but it had been sent to all parents and Ainsworth didn’t read it.

“Because of the nondisclosures and concealments by [police and school officials], Robert had no reason to suspect his boys, specifically, were in possession of U47700,” the lawsuit states. “Even with the information contained in the alert, Robert would still not have known his children were specifically at risk ... because Robert had just spoken at length with school officials that very day and received no communication that [Ryan] was known to be in danger from the same substance that killed Grant Seaver.”

The boys’ mother texted Ainsworth and asked him to search their backpacks again, saying, “I’ve got reason to suspect the boys could be in possession of this substance.” Ainsworth searched the house again and found nothing.

The next morning, Ainsworth found Ryan dead on the sofa.

When police searched the house, Ryan’s older brother handed over a bottle of Pink, which he had in his pants pocket. But police did not tell Ainsworth or others in the home that the bottle contained Pink, or how dangerous it was, the lawsuit alleges.

“The conduct of [police and school officials] in this regard is conscience shocking because the participants in this small group were children,” the lawsuit states. “[They] should have known that these children would be unable or unwilling to protect themselves because of their immaturity and lack of knowledge. It is particularly conscience shocking that Lt. Little would instruct the parents of Grant Seaver to not contact Robert Ainsworth and warn him of something that could kill his son ... that very night.”

The lawsuit alleges civil rights violations related to “outrageous government conduct during a criminal investigation” and creation of danger by government officials.

It is the latest in a flurry of lawsuits and criminal charges resulting from the deaths of Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth. In addition to Robert and Jill Ainsworth, Seaver’s parents, have also sued the parents of the boy who was hospitalized for overdose on Sept. 3, 2016 and the girl whose mother texted Robert Ainsworth that she had found the drug’s package. Both teens pleaded guilty in juvenile court for their roles in buying and distributing Pink, and the girl was criminally charged again in July for allegedly ordering more drugs from the internet to be shipped to her.

The Seavers’ lawsuit alleges the parents knew their children were ordering drugs off the web and sharing them with friends, but they didn’t report the behavior to police.

The Seavers also have sued the “dark web” companies involved in the transaction of Pink to the Park City teens.