SAN DIEGO (AP) — A jury has awarded $85 million in the death of a man who was restrained by San Diego County sheriff’s deputies in 2015.
The federal jury on Tuesday found for the family in a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against the county for the death of Lucky Phounsy, 32, after a confrontation with deputies, including one who later served jail time for assaulting women while on duty.
“We think that the jury verdict did deliver both truth and justice,” said Tim Scott, an attorney for the family.
The lawsuit said that Phounsy called 911 on April 13, 2015, after he began experiencing symptoms of a mental health crisis, including delusions that someone was going to harm him, his wife and their two young children.
The deputies who arrived were “unnecessarily confrontational, aggressive, and profane,” increasing Phounsy’s paranoia and escalating the situation, the lawsuit said.
As Phounsy became more agitated, the deputies repeatedly shocked him with a stun gun and punched him and hit him with a baton before he was hog-tied and taken away in an ambulance, the suit argued.
During the trip, Deputy Richard Fischer held him down, the suit said.
Phounsy’s heart stopped on the way to the hospital and while he was resuscitated, Phounsy died several days later.
The coroner ruled that the death was accidental and due to a brain injury caused by his heart stopping following his confrontation and restraint, but it didn’t appear injuries from those actions caused the heart attack. The autopsy also found that Phounsy had a “stimulant drug-related psychotic state.”
In 2017, the county’s Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board found the deputies had used necessary force on the struggling Phounsy, and argued that he was suffering paranoid delusions from “illicit drug use.”
In court documents, the county argued that Phounsy attacked deputies who tried to handcuff him and that he clawed, bit and punched them.
The family’s attorneys said there were no illegal drugs in Phounsy’s system and contended that he was delusional because he was suffering from severe insomnia and had gone 72 hours without sleep.
Fischer no longer works for the department. In 2019, he pleaded guilty to assault and battery involving 16 women. The women said Fischer groped, hugged or tried to kiss them after they encountered him on the job. He was released from jail after serving about five months of a 44-month sentence.
In a statement, the Sheriff’s Department said it will meet with attorneys to evaluate the verdict.