San Diego seeks to void $85M award in sheriff restraint case

SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego County lawyers are seeking to wipe out an $85 million jury award to the family of man who died after being restrained by sheriff’s deputies in 2015, or get a new trial in the lawsuit that generated the case.

County lawyers contend the verdict stemming from the negligence and wrongful death lawsuit was “incurably infected with error” and that the trial was riddled with rulings that hurt the county’s case.

The request is detailed in motions filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego earlier this month by county lawyers. They are the first moves in what will likely be a protracted fight to reduce or completely overturn the verdict returned March 15 in favor of the family of Lucky Phounsy.

One motion asks U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Huff to set aside the verdict, contending the evidence was not sufficient to support the jury’s conclusion, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. A second seeks a new trial, or a reduction in the award, arguing there were a series of trial errors and that the amount awarded was excessive.

Phounsy, 32, died after being hogtied, shocked him with a stun gun and restrained by San Diego Sheriff’s Department deputies at the Santee home of a relative on April 13, 2015. Phounsy’s heart stopped on the way to the hospital. He was resuscitated, but died several days later.

The county medical examiner concluded his death was accidental and the result of the long struggle with deputies, combined with the effects of the drug ecstasy he had taken several days before.

But lawyers for the family disputed that conclusion and argued that the conduct of the deputies caused him to suffocate to death.

They pointed to deputies binding Phounsy’s hands and ankles in restraints, failing to monitor his vital signs and continuing to restrain him when one deputy forcibly held his head down while he was in an ambulance.

The case was tried twice in federal court. In September a jury deadlocked and could not reach a verdict. At a second trial held in March, after only a day of deliberation, the jury found the county liable and awarded Phounsy’s family $85 million.

Lawyers for the family must still file their arguments opposing the county motions. In a statement, attorneys Mark Fleming and Timothy Scott said the county is still evading responsibility for Phounsy’s death.

“The rehashed arguments raised by the County have already been rejected” by courts several times,” said Scott. Fleming said that the bid to cut the money award disrespects “both the value of Lucky’s life and the enormity of his loss to his family, as well as the hard work and careful consideration of the jury.”

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