STOCKTON, Calif. (KTXL) — The family of a man who died in police custody is suing the city of Stockton, the city’s police chief as well as the two officers involved.
The family of Shayne Sutherland, 29, who died in October of 2020 after being handcuffed and restrained outside a convenience store, said officers used excessive force, applying their full bodyweight which resulted in asphyxiation, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed on Monday.
“Shayne’s unnecessary death is another result of the SPD’s unconstitutional practice of using improper restraint and excessive force,” said V. James DeSimone, an attorney representing the family.
Police arrived at the convenience store after emergency dispatchers received a call from a person at the store requesting a taxi. After questioning, the caller hung up. Dispatchers then called the convenience store, reaching an employee who said a man was threatening others with a wine bottle.
The Stockton Police Department released dispatch audio and partial video from one officer’s body camera in Nov. of 2020.
The video, which ends before medical personnel arrive, shows police approach Sutherland inside an AM/PM and ask him to step outside. He is then asked to sit down and complies.
During questioning, Sutherland admits to cocaine use earlier in the day.
Later in the video, Sutherland gets up, is tackled by police and placed in handcuffs. An officer applies his bodyweight and can be seen placing their forearm on the back of Sutherland’s shoulder/neck-area to restrain him.
Sutherland shows signs of distress, saying to officers, “Please let me live,” “I can’t breathe” and “I’m f—ing dead.”
Officers respond by telling Sutherland to relax. They also call for backup to assist in restraining Sutherland.
One officer is heard saying, “He’s turning colors here,” before calling for medical assistance. The released video ends shortly afterwards, with Sutherland moaning.
Police said one officer performed “life-saving measures” on Sutherland, though that is not shown in video.
An initial autopsy conducted by the police department concluded Sutherland did not die of trauma sustained in the arrest. An independent coroner hired by the family’s attorney said he showed signs of respiratory distress and concluded Sutherland died of asphyxiation.
“At the time he was killed, Shayne was unarmed, handcuffed, in the prone position, not resisting and posing no harm to anyone,” DeSimone said. “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.”
Police initially said Sutherland was white. The attorney representing Sutherland said he is multiracial.
The family of Sutherland and their attorney will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday to discuss details of the suit.