SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - San Diego County is on the hook for $85 million following a deadly encounter involving the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
On Tuesday, a jury sided with the family of Lucky Phounsy. Family members sued the county and several deputies after Phounsy died in 2015.
According to court filings in April 2015, Phounsy began experiencing symptoms of a mental health crisis, including paranoid delusions that someone would harm him and his family, and called 911 for help.
The lawsuit claimed, "The San Diego Sheriff's Department deputies who responded were unnecessarily confrontational, aggressive, and profane. They refused to answer Lucky's questions, and insisted on restraining Lucky from the outset, increasing his paranoia. The deputies' actions escalated an already tense, though under control, situation into violence. Lucky became increasingly agitated and the deputies began using force on Lucky. Deputies shocked Lucky repeatedly with a TASER, then used punches and baton strikes on Lucky."
The lawsuit stated deputies hogtied Phounsy, carried him out of the house, and loaded him into an ambulance. The suit said, "Defendants apparently kept Lucky hogtied in route to the hospital, and further compromised his ability to breath by putting some sort of sock on his face and holding him down in the gurney. At some point before arriving at the hospital, Lucky's heart stopped."
In court filings, the county had claimed Phounsy attacked deputies as they were attempting to handcuff him for safety. In court documents, they stated he failed to comply and caused the use of force which he escalated. They alleged Phounsy bit, punched, and clawed the responding deputies.
After hearing the evidence, jurors sided with the family and awarded $85 million in damages.
"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 Attorney Tim Scott. "We asked that the verdict express the community values that we share here in San Diego. We think that the jury verdict did deliver both truth and justice."
Scott also thanked the jury, saying, "We are very gratified by the jury's verdict because we do think that it spoke both truth and justice as to what happened to Lucky Phounsy."
According to court documents, former San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy Richard Fischer was the person who held Phounsy down in the ambulance.
Fischer is currently in jail for assaulting women while on duty as a deputy. In September 2019, he pleaded guilty to several charges.
On Tuesday evening, a sheriff's department spokesperson released the following statement: "The San Diego County Sheriff's Department is aware of the verdict in the civil case brought on behalf of Lucky Phounsy. We appreciate the role of the jury and the work they put in on this case. In the days and weeks to come, the Department will meet with counsel to evaluate the verdict further. As always, our ultimate goal is to provide exceptional law enforcement services in San Diego County."