Washington court reinstates wrongful death lawsuit where deceased told cops he couldn’t breathe

Associated Press (10/06)

SEATTLE (AP) — The widow of a Tulalip tribal member who died in 2015 has won a new trial over allegations that police officers used excessive force on Cecil Lacy Jr. when they held him down as he told them he couldn’t breathe.

The Washington Court of Appeals overturned a trial judge’s 2018 decision to grant a so-called “directed verdict” against Lacy’s widow, Sara, after a 2018 civil wrongful-death trial in King County Superior Court, The Seattle Times reported.

The three-judge panel in the Court of Appeals Division I unanimously concluded that Sara Lacy can pursue a civil battery claim against the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Tyler Pendergrass. Pendergrass confronted the 46-year-old Lacy the night of Sept. 18, 2015, walking along Marine Drive on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.

Lacy appeared intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, and Pendergrass called for other officers with the intent of taking Lacy home or to the hospital, according to reports and court documents.

Instead, Lacy died lying on his stomach in a ditch with three officers pinning him down — Pendergrass across his back — as Lacy gasped for air and then went still.

Pendergrass said he tried to calm Lacy down, and one officer offered Lacy a ride home. They handcuffed Lacy with his hands in front — he was not under arrest — but after he got into the car, he became agitated and fled. Pendergrass and the other officers wrestled him to the ground and pinned him facedown.

Other officers at the scene acknowledged to detectives Lacy said words to the effect of “I’m freaking out … I can’t breathe” just before he died, according to reports and information gathered by Sara Lacy’s attorney, Gabriel Galanda. Galanda on Monday praised the decision to reinstate significant portions of the lawsuit and send it back for a new trial.

Jason Cummings, the chief of the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Civil Division, praised the judges for upholding the lower court’s decision to dismiss a series of negligence claims against Pendergrass and the county, alleging the deputy failed to provide timely medical care to Lacy and approached the obviously agitated man in a manner that foreseeably resulted in the use of excessive force.

While upholding the dismissal of the negligence allegations, the Court of Appeals concluded that King County Superior Court Judge Karen Donohue erred when she granted Snohomish County’s motion for a verdict in its favor on Sara Lacy’s allegations of battery against Pendergrass following a 10-day civil trial in late 2018.

The appeals court concluded that Sara Lacy and her police and forensic evidence had raised significant issues of fact that should have been sent to a jury rather than dismissed on the county’s motion.


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Posted in: Appeals, Excessive Force, Lawsuits, Police, Racial Issues, Wrongful Death

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