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San Diego County agrees to pay $12 million in wrongful death settlement

The Federal Justice Center in downtown San Diego in this undated photo.
Alexander Nguyen
/
KPBS
The Federal Justice Center in downtown San Diego in this undated photo.

San Diego County will pay $12 million to the family of a man who died following his arrest by San Diego County sheriff's deputies nearly eight years ago, according to a settlement agreement finalized this week.

The settlement stems from a lawsuit brought by the family of 32-year-old Lucky Phounsy, who died following his April 13, 2015, arrest in Santee.

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Phounsy's family alleged in its lawsuit that while in the midst of a mental health crisis, he was shocked with a stun gun, repeatedly struck and hogtied by responding deputies.

Phounsy was later placed in an ambulance while handcuffed and strapped to a gurney, where he went into cardiac arrest, the family alleged. He died a few days later at a hospital.

The suit alleged the deputies escalated the situation by agitating an already paranoid Phounsy, who was suffering from delusions that someone was going to harm him and his family.

One jury was unable to reach a consensus on whether the county was liable.

Last year, a second San Diego federal jury awarded Phounsy's family $85 million, an amount that U.S. District Judge Marilyn Huff later threw out, ruling it was "far out of proportion to the evidence."

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While Huff declined to grant a new trial based on the county's liability, she did grant a new trial solely to determine how much should be awarded in wrongful death damages. The settlement means no new trial will be held.

Along with the county, former San Diego County sheriff's deputy Richard Fischer was found liable by the jury in Phounsy's death.

Phounsy's family alleged Fischer accompanied Phounsy in the ambulance and "forcibly restrained" his head and torso by holding him down on the gurney, which kept him from being able to adequately breathe.

Fischer was later charged and pleaded guilty to groping and accosting more than a dozen women while on duty, and is currently serving a county jail sentence.