Dead inmate’s family sues S.F. for $50 million
The San Francisco Chronicle, October 5, 2010
The family of a San Francisco jail inmate who the coroner determined died at the hands of sheriff’s deputies has filed a $50 million civil rights lawsuit against the city.
Issiah Downes, 31, was in handcuffs when he went limp and died Sept. 7, 2009, while being subdued by sheriff’s deputies inside a padded safety cell at the County Jail at 850 Bryant St.
He died of positional asphyxia after the second of two struggles with deputies, the medical examiner’s office found. He first struggled with deputies after he was told he was being moved into an isolation cell. Once inside the cell, there was a second struggle.
Dr. Amy Hart, chief medical examiner, concluded that Downes’ cause of death “was determined to be probable respiratory arrest during prone restraint, with morbid obesity.”
Geri Green, the lawyer for Downes’ mother, Esther Downes, said Downes died needlessly.
Green said she wants the court to impose new rules on the Sheriff’s Department to prevent deaths like that of Downes. “She wants to know that no one else’s son goes through this,” she said. “Whatever it takes for that to happen.”
She said Downes had a history of mental illness and deputies brutalized him for no reason. She said Downes was not being violent or posing a threat to others at the time he was restrained.
The complaint also accuses the Sheriff’s Department of trying to intimidate inmates who witnessed and spoke out after the incident, of ordering staff to be silent about the incident and of blocking the medical examiner’s investigation.
A spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department said the agency regrets the man’s death but restated its position that proper procedures were followed in handling the inmate.