An $85 million civil rights judgment handed down to the family of a man who died in 2015 at the hands of San Diego sheriff’s officers has been overturned by a federal judge.
On April 13, 2015, Lucky Phounsy was hogtied, tasered, and restrained at a relative’s house. A few days later, he passed away. A jury held San Diego County responsible in March 2022 and gave his family a $85 million payout.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff ruled on Wednesday that the monetary award could not be supported by the trial evidence.
The jury’s wrongful death award’s enormity, in light of the complete record, “is considerably out of proportion to the facts and implies that the jury may have impermissibly inserted some estimate of Plaintiffs’ emotional suffering, or some amount meant to penalize Defendants in the award,” Huff said.
Despite requests from county attorneys, Huff declined to order a new trial in her 75-page decision. She also declined to reverse the result and make the county the winner.
A new trial will still be required to determine the appropriate monetary award, though.
The decision, according to attorneys for the Phounsy family, affirmed the county’s obligation since the court maintained jury findings of excessive force and incompetence on the part of the officers.
She also sustained the conclusions that Phounsy, who was 32 at the time of his death and was experiencing a mental health crisis when deputies took him into custody, was the victim of civil rights violations as a result of the sheriff’s department’s inadequate training.
The decision upholds the jury’s key finding that the County and its deputies are solely accountable for Lucky Phounsy’s death under the law. Tim Scott and Mark Fleming wrote the article.
The lawyers said, “Another jury will soon be tasked with assessing the unimaginable loss suffered by the Phounsy family.”
The county medical examiner declared his death to be accidental; it was brought on by his protracted struggle with deputies as well as the side effects of the drug ecstasy, which he had taken a few days previously.
The deputies’ actions, according to Phounsy’s relatives, caused him to suffocate, which they contested with the findings.
A jury that was split evenly in 2021 couldn’t decide in September. Six months later, at a second trial, the jury held the county responsible after just one day of deliberation and gave the family $85 million. At the time, this was the highest civil rights award for a custody death.
The third trial, which will determine how much the county must pay, has not yet been scheduled for a date.
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