Family Seeks Justice for Unarmed Man Killed in Custody of Stockton PD
STOCKTON, CALIF., Oct. 4, 2021 – Two SPD officers used excessive force on an unarmed and handcuffed man, applying full body weight pressure and a police baton to the prone victim’s neck, shoulders and back, resulting in restraint asphyxiation, according to a federal wrongful death lawsuit the man’s family to be filed today.
The incident was captured on the officers’ body cameras, but only poorly angled footage from just one of the two officers has been released to the public.
A youth football coach and father, Shayne Sutherland, 29, was pronounced dead at a hospital Oct. 8, 2020, just 10 days shy of his birthday. An hour before his death, the officers involved responded to an initial 911 call made by Sutherland, who was trying to call for a taxicab from an AM/PM store. An employee answered a dispatcher’s subsequent call to the store and told the dispatcher that there was no emergency. Police arrived anyway. Sutherland was inside the store and complied with the officer’s commands to walk outside, says the complaint. Sutherland was searched and continued to follow the officer’s instructions to sit outside the store to answer questions.
According to the complaint, Sutherland stood up and took a few steps when one officer violently tackled him to the ground and applied his body weight at full force, as the other handcuffed Sutherland. While lying on his stomach, in a prone position known to interfere with breathing, the victim apologized and showed no resistance. Despite Sutherland’s cooperation, at least one of the officers applied his baton, arm and body weight to his neck, back and shoulders, according to the complaint. The officers ignored Sutherland’s obvious pain and distress, even as Sutherland pleaded that he could not breathe. On the video Sutherland is heard saying “I’m f***ing dead.”
After Sutherland lay motionless, the officers delayed and failed to adequately provide medical assistance to help revive him, the lawsuit says.
The complaint alleges that officers continued to apply unnecessary and deadly force for approximately three minutes, even as Sutherland showed apparent signs of respiratory distress, ultimately resulting in his death from restraint asphyxiation, according to a report from Bennet Omalu, an independent coroner hired by the family.
“Shayne’s unnecessary death is another result of the SPD’s unconstitutional practice of using improper restraint and excessive force,” said V. James DeSimone, the Marina del Rey, Calif., civil rights attorney representing the Sutherland family. “At the time he was killed, Shayne was unarmed, handcuffed, in the prone position, not resisting, and posing no harm to anyone. Still, while he pleaded for his life, at least one police officer used his full body weight to literally crush the breath out of him. This violates well-established law enforcement standards and training, and the United States Constitution. This has to stop.”
In an unrelated SPD excessive force case, officers were fired and recently indicted on felony assault charges for the assault and battery of a Black teenager. After Sutherland’s death, DeSimone requested that the California Attorney General and San Joaquin District Attorney conduct an independent investigation of the SPD, its use of force policies and procedures, and file charges against the officers.
Sutherland, who was multiracial, leaves behind a large family that includes his two children, three step-children and their mother, as well as his parents and five siblings. His mother, Karen Sutherland, will speak at the press conference about the family’s devastating loss.
His family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from the city and police department over the wrongful death. Named in the lawsuit are the City of Stockton, the involved SPD officers, Ronald Zalunardo and John Afanasiev, and Police Chief Eric Jones.
Los Angeles civil rights attorney V. James DeSimone has dedicated his 35-year law career to providing vigorous and ethical representation to achieve justice for those whose civil and constitutional rights are violated.
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