A jury has granted $85 million to the family of a man who suffered a mental health crisis and died when he was restrained by San Diego County sheriff’s deputies in 2015.
The federal jury’s Tuesday verdict came in a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against San Diego county for the death of Lucky Phounsy after a confrontation with deputies — including one law-enforcement official who subsequently served jail time for assaulting women while on duty.
The large compensation – issued after a two-week trial — is one the largest civil verdicts against the county in recent history, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“What we asked the jury for is to return a verdict that reflected the truth about his death and that reflected justice for what was taken from this family,” said Tim Scott, an attorney for the family, according to CNN affiliate KGTV. “We think that the jury verdict did deliver both truth and justice.”
“I think this verdict was about accountability,” attorney Gerald Singleton, who also represented the family, said Wednesday, according to the LA times. “They have a lot of very good officers who do this job, but they don’t do any kind of a decent job getting rid of the bad apples.”
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement it plans to meet with its legal representatives to “evaluate the verdict further.”
“As always, our ultimate goal is to provide exceptional law enforcement services in San Diego County,” read the statement.
A county spokesperson reportedly said in a statement, “We will review the case and decide next steps.”
“Until then, we have no comment on the case,” the rep added.
According to the lawsuit filed in late 2015, Phounsy, 32, dialed 911 on April 13, 2015, when he began suffering a mental health crisis. He experienced delusions that someone was going to hurt him, his wife and their two children.
The deputies dispatched to the scene acted in a way that was “unnecessarily confrontational, aggressive, and profane,” making the situation worse, the lawsuit said.
Phounsy became “frightened and confused” when they tried to handcuff him, the suit says.
“The deputies did nothing to de-escalate the situation, as they were aggressive and profane,” reads the lawsuit.
As Phounsy became increasingly distressed, the deputies shocked him multiple times with a stun gun, punched him and struck him with a baton before he was taken away in an ambulance, the suit alleged.
On the way to the hospital, Deputy Richard Fischer held him down, according to the suit.
Fischer in 2019 pleaded guilty to assault and battery that took place between 2015 and 2017 and involved 16 women. Fischer pleaded guilty to four felony counts of assault under color of authority, two misdemeanor counts of assault under color of authority and one misdemeanor count of false imprisonment, the Times of San Diego reported.
He is no longer a member of the department. The women accused Fischer of groping, hugging or trying to kiss them after they came into contact with him while he was on the job.
Fischer was in December 2019 sentenced to 44 months behind bars, according to reports at the time.
During the drive to the hospital in 2015, Phounsy’s heart stopped, and though he was resuscitated, he died days later.
The coroner determined that the death was accidental and due to a brain injury caused by his heart stopping following his confrontation and restraint, but that the injuries from the deputies’ actions did not cause the heart attack. The autopsy also found that Phounsy had a “stimulant drug-related psychotic state.”
The county’s Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board in 2017 concluded the deputies had used necessary force on Phounsy, declaring that he was suffering paranoid delusions from “illicit drug use.”
The county also countered that Phounsy attacked deputies who attempted to handcuff him and that he clawed, bit and punched them.
The family’s attorneys have argued there were no drugs in Phounsy’s system, and said that he was delusional because he was suffering from insomnia, resulting in him not sleeping for three days prior to the incident.
With Post wires