San Diego County's Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board has found that the actions taken by 11 sheriff's deputies, which resulted in the death of 32-year-old Lucky Phounsey, were justified.
According to a newly posted agenda, the review board did not find any criminal wrongdoing by the deputies when they "struck, batoned, and tasered" a mentally ill man who had phoned police after experiencing paranoid delusions.
"The actions of the deputies in their attempt to gain control of an assaultive prisoner were not excessive, but necessary," reads the June 17 agenda. "The evidence showed the alleged acts occurred and were lawful, justified and proper."
The findings come as Phounsey's family prepares for a civil trial in the wrongful death lawsuit they filed in November 2015.
On April 13, 2015, Lucky Phounsey called 911 to report that he was experiencing a psychotic break from an extreme case of insomnia and was worried he was a risk to his wife and young children.
Over the course of the day, Phounsey became agitated. He called a psychiatrist who recommended he get sleep. He took over-the-counter medications for sleep. Soon, his delusions worsened. He feared someone was after him and his family.
Deputies arrived and, according to a wrongful death lawsuit later filed by the family, did nothing to "de-escalate" Phounsey's emotional and mental state. Instead, says the lawsuit, the deputies were profane and aggressive. Phounsey allowed the deputies to search him for contraband but he grew combative as soon as deputies tried to place handcuffs on him. One deputy shot him with his taser. He continued to fight. Another deputy began to hit him with her baton. Meanwhile, as Phounsey allegedly retreated to his wife who had been watching from another room, another deputy fired an additional charge from his taser.
More deputies arrived and Phounsey was eventually restrained and placed on a gurney to be transported to Sharp Grossmont Hospital. Phounsey's agitation and combativeness remained while restrained. Paramedics, according to the lawsuit, tried to sedate Phounsey. To keep him from thrashing about they hogtied him and placed a "sock" over his face.
"At some point before [Phounsey] was transferred to the care of Grossmont Hospital, [he] stopped breathing, and his heart stopped beating. Plaintiffs are informed and believe that this happened at minimum several minutes before arrival at the hospital and was either not observed or ignored by the paramedics and deputies."
Phounsey was resuscitated but died two days later.
The coroner ruled the death "accidental" with the cause of death listed as "anoxic encephalopathy, due to cardiopulmonary arrest with resuscitation following physical altercation and restraint, due to stimulant drug-related psychotic state."
According to the agenda from the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board, the medical examiner found that Phounsey did not die as a result of the altercation with the sheriff's deputies.
Phounsey's family sued the sheriff's department and the deputies involved for excessive force, failing to administer medical care, battery, negligence, and wrongful death, among other causes of action. The trial is expected to be held within the coming year.