Federal courthouse
Federal courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A federal jury has awarded $85 million, reportedly the largest civil rights verdict the county has ever faced, to the family of a man who died following his arrest by sheriff’s deputies nearly seven years ago.

The verdict returned Tuesday following a two-week trial stemmed from a lawsuit filed against the county and several deputies by the family of Lucky Phounsy, who died on April 13, 2015.

The family alleged that Phounsy was experiencing a mental health crisis when 911 was called, but responding deputies shocked Phounsy with a stun gun and repeatedly struck him, in addition to hog-tying him, according to the lawsuit filed in late 2015.

Phounsy was later placed in an ambulance while still hogtied, where he went into cardiac arrest, the family claimed. 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.

Among the deputies involved in the arrest was Richard Fischer, a former deputy who pleaded guilty in 2019 to assault charges while on duty.

The lawsuit alleged Fischer accompanied Phounsy in the ambulance and “forcibly restrained” Phounsy’s head and torso by holding him down onto a gurney. Fischer, who was found liable along with the county, is jailed in connection with the unrelated sex crimes case.

According to the jury’s special verdict form, jurors found in favor of Phounsy’s family’s claims of wrongful death, excessive force, failure to train the deputies involved, negligence, and interference of Phounsy’s civil rights.

City News Service contributed to this article.