No One Else Needs to Die From Positional Asphyxiation

Those who sought justice for Shayne Sutherland urge police to follow their training and avoid more deaths

STOCKTON, Calif., April 11, 2024 – The mother of a man who died of positional asphyxiation when Stockton Police held him face-down for more than eight minutes will speak at a press conference today to call on police departments to prevent this type of senseless death and to provide a significant update on the case.

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Civil rights attorney V. James DeSimone will be joined by Karen Sutherland, the mother of Shayne Sutherland, and Attorneys Jenica Leonard and Carmen Sabater of V. James DeSimone Law, at the news conference, set for 11 a.m. Thursday, April 11, outside the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, 222 E. Weber Ave., Stockton, Calif.

The Stockton City Council recently approved a $6 million settlement with Shayne Sutherland’s family in their federal wrongful death lawsuit. Sutherland, who was suffering from a mental health crisis on Oct. 8, 2020, would likely not have died if Stockton Police officers followed their training and rolled him onto his side into the recovery position after handcuffing him.

Instead, two officers held him face-down, applying pressure with their bodies and batons for more than eight minutes, resulting in the death of the father of two, and stepfather to three. He was 10 days shy of his 30th birthday.

Sutherland’s death came less than six months after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer under similar circumstances set off nationwide protests.

This is about training and accountability,” DeSimone said. “Police agencies must ensure their officers have a clear understanding of how important it is to place someone who is handcuffed and prone into the recovery position as fast as possible, which is what they are supposed to be doing. The United States Department of Justice issued guidelines on how to preserve lives in 1995 and they should be required as part of the training for all police officers.

Shayne should be here with his children, with his family. Instead, his life ended after he begged the officers to help him, to let him breathe.

Shortly before his death, the officers responded to a 911 call made by Sutherland, who was trying to call for a taxi from an AM/PM store. An employee answered a dispatcher’s subsequent call to the store and told the dispatcher there was no emergency. Police arrived anyway.

Sutherland was inside the store and complied with the officer’s commands to walk outside. Sutherland was searched and complied with the officer’s instructions to sit down and answer questions.

As he was being questioned, Sutherland stood up and turned in to the arms of the two police officers. One officer forcefully brought him to the ground and applied 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 hand-cuffed Sutherland apologized while struggling to breathe.

Despite Sutherland’s cooperation, the other officer applied his baton, arm, knees and body weight to his neck, back and shoulders. The officers ignored Sutherland’s obvious pain and distress, even as Sutherland pleaded that he could not breathe.

They saw that he was turning colors, losing consciousness, and bleeding from the mouth. Instead of putting him into a recovery position, they bent his legs into an unnatural position crossing his ankles up to his buttocks while applying pressure to keep him face down on his belly. On an officer’s body cam video, Sutherland is heard saying “I’m f***ing dead” before falling unconscious. He was pronounced dead in an emergency room less than an hour later.

Karen Sutherland has advocated tirelessly for Shayne while preserving his memory through his children, and as he is honored before Pee Wee Football games where he coached. Sutherland, a medical professional, implores police agencies across the country to see this $6 million settlement as notice and a warning sign that officers are still ignoring essential training that would spare many lives.

“Shayne’s death is a devastating loss for our entire family and community. It has been recently reported that at least 22 people have been killed by police through positional asphyxia after handcuffing in California, and this number is likely severely undercounted. Nobody should die this way when there are better police practices that are safe and will keep someone breathing and alive.”

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.

Robert Frank, 206-790-6324
Newsroom Public Relations


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