Breaking News
More () »

Family of man who died from San Diego Sheriff's restraints settles for $12M

The settlement comes after a jury initially granted an $85 million verdict to the family of Lucky Phounsy.
Credit: San Diego County Sheriff
Photo taken from police body camera of restrain used on Phounsy

SAN DIEGO — Nearly eight years after 32-year-old Lucky Phounsy died during an altercation with San Diego County Sheriff's Deputies inside his Santee home, San Diego County has agreed to pay Phounsy's $12 million dollars.

According to court documents obtained by CBS 8, the judge approved the settlement in a lawsuit that has spanned more than seven years. 

The final payout is $73 million less than a federal jury awarded the Phounsy family in a May 2022 verdict.

The judge in the case deemed the verdict excessive and granted a new trial, which would have been the third trial.

After months of negotiations, in an effort to avoid another long and arduous trial, the county and the Phounsy family agreed on a settlement in December 2022. That amount, however, was not made public until January 19, when the judge gave final approval. 

The Death of Lucky Phounsy

In April 2015, Lucky Phounsy, a 32-year-old Santee resident, grew paranoid. He hadn't slept in days. According to the lawsuit, his family tried to give him over-the-counter medications to help him sleep. They only agitated Phounsy more.  

As his family was preparing to take him to a hospital, Phounsy called 911 and told dispatchers that he and his family were in danger. Minutes later, one of Phounsy's family members told dispatchers what was happening, that Phounsy was delusional and no one was in danger. They also told dispatchers that no weapons were in the house.

When deputies arrived at the house, they encountered a confused and distraught Phounsy inside. They attempted to detain him, and Phounsy resisted. While in the hallway, deputies, according to the family's lawsuit, tased and punched Phounsy as he tried to fight back. Deputies then placed Phounsy in a "hogtie" restraint and put their weight on him.

Phounsy's two young boys, toddlers at the time of the incident, were inside the house and witnessed the altercation.

Phounsy remained hogtied for 30 minutes before placing him in an ambulance. Once inside the ambulance, still restrained, Sheriff's Deputy Richard Fischer placed a spit sock over Phounsy's face. As he did, Phounsy's heart stopped. 

Phounsy died after spending several days in a coma.

The $85 million Verdict

In March 2022, after seven years and two trials, a federal jury awarded the Phounsy family $85 million for the death of Lucky Phounsy. 

The vast majority of the award, $80 million, was for the pain and suffering of Lucky Phounsy before his death and for his family.

The county objected to the verdict. Attorneys for the county argued that the judge allowed evidence that should not have been allowed and that the verdict was excessive.

On August 16, 2022, Federal Judge Marilyn Huff agreed, writing, "There is no doubt that Plaintiffs’ loss was great. However, even accounting for the great deference owed to the jury’s verdict, the Court is left with the “firm conviction” that the jury’s $80 million award, divorced from any economic damages, was likely “the result of passion or prejudice” and “grossly excessive."

By ruling the verdict excessive, the judge allowed for a new trial.

In December of last year, the county and the family agreed to settle the case for $12 million to avoid having to go to trial again.

On January 19, the judge approved the settlement and the amount that Phounsy's eight and 9-year-old boys would receive.

CBS 8 reached out to the Sheriff's Department and the County for comment on the settlement.

Neither the County nor the Sheriff's Department responded.

Before You Leave, Check This Out