The mother of a mentally disabled San Francisco County Jail inmate who died after being physically restrained by sheriff’s deputies in 2009 will receive a $350,000 settlement from The City, attorneys said Tuesday.
Esther Downes sued The City for $50 million following the death of her 31-year-old son Issiah Downes on Sept. 7, 2009. She alleged deputies used excessive force and unconstitutional restraint procedures, involving placing their weight on his back and neck.
In a statement Downes’ attorney Geri Green said the “relatively modest settlement given the facts in this case and the horrible way that Issiah died” was reached because his mother was seriously ill and on a limited income, and couldn’t afford a long court battle.
Deputies had been transferring Downes to an administrative segregation cell that night after he had complained about the televisions being turned off.
The Sheriff’s Department said Downes, who stood 6 feet tall and weighed 300 pounds, had become verbally disruptive and resisted the move. A short time after being placed face-down in the safety cell while handcuffed and shackled, he was found to have stopped breathing.
“Mrs. Downes hopes that by bringing the case in Issiah’s memory she has helped to shine a light on the dangerous restraint practices still in place at San Francisco County Jail and the violent behavior of guards there, especially against prisoners with mental illness,” Green said. “Issiah would be alive today if he had been treated with compassion and respect and afforded the civil rights that he and every other citizen deserves.”
Downes suffered from schizophrenia, and days after his arrest in March 2009 said he wanted to kill himself, and tried to gouge his own eye out, leaving him blind in that eye.
Both the Sheriff’s Department and the City Attorney’s Office declined to comment specifically about the case.
“We’re always very sorry for anyone who dies in our custody, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and loved ones of that person,” said Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Susan Fahey.
“We believe that this is a fair and just settlement,” City Attorney’s Office spokesman Jack Song said. “However, it is still a tragic incident.”