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$50 Million Lawsuit for Death Due to Restraint

The mother of Issiah Downes, a 31-year old mentally disabled man who died in San Francisco County Jail on September 7, 2009, filed a federal civil rights suit on October 1, 2010 against the City and County of San Francisco. In addition to seeking $50 million in monetary damages, the suit asks the court to order the Sheriff’s office to change its policies relating to the handling and restraint of prisoners and the use of safety cells, as well as establishing a meaningful grievance policy for prisoners and ensuring sufficient and effective oversight of jail operations.

Once you have read this story read the story of Jimmy Mubenga that we have also reported on and see if you can notice any similarities. 

Although this lawsuit is happening in the US it has implications for us all here in the UK, because under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 Courts are allowed to look at the 'culture of the organisation' and impose punitive fines against companies whose negligent breaches of health and safety have led to a person's death thorugh negligence.

Issiah Downes, 31, was in handcuffs when he went limp and died on September 7, 2009, while being restrained by sheriff's deputies inside a padded safety cell at the County Jail at 850 Bryant St.

The lawsuit paints a macabre portrait of the events at the county jail at the Hall of Justice on the night of Sept. 7, 2009:

See if you can spot he obvious and foreseeable failings!

A sheriff's deputy had turned off all the TVs in the unit in response to Downes' TV set being turned up too loud. Downes protested the move, telling the deputy to allow everyone else to continue watching TV. The deputy called for backup and reported that Downes was trying to incite a riot. More deputies arrived to move Downes to an adminitsratvie segregation unit, clamping two sets of handcuffs on his wrists. 

Face Down on the floor and lying on top of him.....

Downes complained that he needed his medication before he could go to the new unit. More deputies arrived, and held Downes face-down on the floor and shackled his legs to one another. Others put pressure on him by lying on top of him and putting their knees on his neck, restricting his air flow. Downes gasped for air and told the deputies he couldn't breathe.

Held his head down, placed his arms behind his back and used a figure 4 leg lock....

While deputies moved Downes to a safety cell -- either by walking or carrying him backwards -- they flexed his head downwards in an "asphyxiating restraint position" until Downs dropped to ground, claiming he was unable to continue. Once in the safety cell, the deputies lifted his arms behind his back and sat on his back or and pulling his legs up from the floor in what's known as a "figure 4" restraint.

Put a knee on his neck...... saying he couldn't breathe.....

One witness said he saw a guard with his knee on Issiah’s neck. Other prisoners who witnessed the incident said that Issiah was telling the guards that he couldn’t breathe, but they persisted in holding him down.”

And lack of proper supervision.

Medical staff in a medical room adjacent to the safety cell reported hearing moaning, and one nurse left the office to see what was happening, but "made no effort to intervene or evaluate the prisoner."

At 6:20 p.m., "nearly and hour and a half" after Downes was first moved from his original jail tank, a senior sheriff deputy knocked on the medication room door, saying Downes had stopped breathing. The nurse who responded found that Downes, indeed, had stopped breathing and had no pulse. He was pronounced dead by paramedics 13 minutes later, at 6:33.

Died of Positional Asphyxia

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.

Downes' mother, Esther, alleges that the sheriff's department knew its restraining policies used on her son were dangerous, killed him, and conspired to cover up the true cause of his death.

They Knew About The Risks

The complaint alleges that the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department has a history of causing death and serious injury using the same or similar restraint procedures. The complaint also alleges that the County has been on notice that the restraint policies and procedures employed at the jail are dangerous to the health and well-being of detainees and therefore violate their constitutional rights and that Sheriff Hennessey himself was personally told that his deputies were abusing and torturing mentally-ill prisoners as early as 2008.

Wasn't violent at the time of the restraint

“Contrary to the misleading statements that have come out of the Sheriff’s office since Issiah was killed, he was not acting in a violent manner and was not a threat to himself or others when he was tricked into agreeing to go to a so-called ‘safety cell’,” said attorney Geri Lynn Green of San Francisco who filed the suit on behalf of Esther Downes.

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.

Now that you have read this go back and read about the case of Jimmy Mubenga and see if you can spot any similarities!

The case continues.

This is happening here in the UK - Today!

The deaths of Jimmy Mubenga, the video footage of Faisal Al Ani being restrained by police, the recent case of Olaseni Lewis (reported on our Blog site) and many other deaths due to restraint such all show striking similarities to what happened to Issiah Downes.

You have to consider is this; If a death occurs in your workplace because restraint techniques are being used that increase the risk of death then you and / or your company could be held to account. And the question you need to ask yourself is this: How would you be able to defend yourself in a court of law if an action was taken against you under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, The Human Rights Act 1998 or Section or the Health & Safety at Work Act on the basis that the techniques used were well known to increase the risk of death! How would you defend that one?

Are You Responsible for Managing or Training Staff in the Use of Restraint?

If you are responsible for managing or training staff in the use of restraint in then how protected are you likely to be if you or your organisation kill someone in similar circumstances?

Are you aware of how to minimise the risk of positional asphyxia whilst giving staff the skills to control others, some who may become increasingly powerful or aggressive?
Are you aware that your organisation must promote a positive obligation to protect and preserve life as required by Human Rights Legislation and Corporate Manslaughter Legislation?
Did you know that right now some staff in organisations are actually using techniques today that increase the risk of death? Could that be happening in your organisation and you could be liable for it?

If not, then please take the time to have a look at our new Understanding Reasonable Force Audio Set that is being released on the 25th of October. It may be the best investment and protection you may ever possess!

The Understanding Reasonable Force Audio Cd set can be viewed by clicking here.

Understanding Reasonable Force Audio CD - All The Knowledge You Need.

The audio recordings may be all that you need to provide you with a strong defence - provided of course that you took notice of what is on it and implemented it.

You also need to consider the other alternative situation. What if the agency prosecuting you had the information and you didn't? Who would have the advantage then?

All you have to consider is whether the investment is worthwhile when considering what the costs are if you are prosecuted and found guilty. To work that one out read our recent articles on 'Why Managers Need to Know About Reasonable Force' and 'Corporate Manslaughter - What Every Manager Should Know' - then make a decision.

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