A Long Beach civil jury Wednesday awarded $8 million to the family of a man whose lawyers argued that Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies choked him during a violent struggle in Compton.
Darren Burley died 12 days after an Aug. 3, 2012, arrest, in which deputies acknowledged punching the 29-year-old, zapping him with a stun gun and using their body weight to force handcuffs on him, according to court records.
The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated for two days before finding the county liable for negligence and battery in the man's death and awarded $8 million to his wife and five children, according to family attorney Carl Douglas.
Jurors determined that Burley himself was at fault for 40% of the episode. However, due to the jury's findings of battery, his family will receive the full award, Douglas said.
Plaintiffs argued that during the struggle, the deputies blocked the flow of oxygen to Burley's brain.
"Mr. Burley was subject to an illegal choke-hold and suffocation when deputies put too much pressure on him face-down during a misdemeanor arrest," Douglas said.
Sheriff's officials have denied that the deputies ever applied a choke-hold and say that his death was caused by sudden cardiac arrest brought on by chronic drug use.
"Deputies were called to the scene because Mr. Burley was choking a pregnant woman," a statement released by the sheriff's department on Wednesday said. "He was under the influence of both PCP and cocaine. He did not follow the deputies' instructions, but instead began to chase the victim, forcing the deputies to intervene in order to protect her."
In a videotaped interview immediately after the incident, the victim told police that Burley was choking her and said "he held me to my last breath.... I was just gonna die." The victim was thankful for the deputies' intervention, and said they had saved her life, the department statement said.
While the jurors found the county negligent, county prosecutors declined to charge deputies David Aviles and Paul Baserra, citing Burley's violent behavior.
The six-week trial played out amid national protests involving race and the use of lethal police force in cities such as Ferguson, Mo., and New York. Burley was African American.