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Federal jury awards $85 million to California family in wrongful death lawsuit after arrest

By Josh Campbell and Elizabeth Joseph, CNN

A federal jury has awarded $85 million to the family of a California man who died in 2015 after a confrontation with San Diego County sheriff’s deputies, court records show.

The jury’s verdict came in a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Lucky Phounsy against the county and sheriffs.

“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 Tim Scott, an attorney for the family, according to CNN affiliate KGTV. “We think that the jury verdict did deliver both truth and justice.”

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department plans to meet with its legal representatives to “evaluate the verdict further,” according to a statement.

“As always, our ultimate goal is to provide exceptional law enforcement services in San Diego County,” the statement said.

On April 13, 2015, Phounsy, 32, “began experiencing symptoms of a mental health crisis” and called 911 “to report that unknown assailants were trying to harm him,” according to the complaint filed on behalf of Phounsy’s two children, wife, and mother.

Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the call “were unnecessarily confrontational, aggressive, and profane,” the lawsuit claimed.

After deputies attempted to handcuff him, “Lucky became frightened and confused” before an altercation with one of the deputies, the lawsuit says.

Deputies, emergency medical technicians and paramedics used a Taser on Phounsy and hog-tied him, and on the way to the hospital paramedics put a sock over his face, according to the lawsuit.

According to an incident summary in court documents, the two responding deputies called for back-up units “while they were being assaulted and injured by Phounsy.” Both deputies were injured in the altercation, one of them severely, according to the summary.

Phounsy was treated in a local hospital and died a few days later, the complaint said.

The federal jury found the deputies used excessive force against Phounsy, weren’t trained properly, violated Phounsy’s civil rights, and were negligent in their duties — all of which led to his wrongful death, according to court records.

Phounsy’s family was awarded $5 million for the pain and suffering he experienced — $2 million for suffering endured before he was placed into an ambulance, and $3 million for suffering endured before his death — as well as $80 million for their loss of his love, companionship and more, court records show.

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CNN’s Theresa Waldrop contributed to this report.

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