A former NFL player died in L.A. County custody. His family alleges foul play

A football player on the right is returning an interception while another player chases him.
Stanford cornerback Stanley Wilson Jr. (2) returns an interception during a game in 2004. Wilson died in February while in L.A. County custody and his family alleges his death was a result of excessive force.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The family of former NFL player Stanley Wilson Jr., who died last month while in Los Angeles County custody after a recent arrest, said the 40-year-old’s death was a result of “excessive force” and “deliberate indifference.”

His parents said they found Wilson’s body with “ligature marks” on his wrists and “fresh wounds” on his head that appeared “to have been caused by a shoe,” according to a claim filed this week that seeks $45 million in damages from the county. Wilson’s father is Stanley Wilson Sr., a former NFL running back.

An official cause of death has not been made public, but the parents said the county “grossly misrepresented the cause and circumstances” of their son’s death, according to the claim.


“The county failed to implement and maintain proper procedures to engage mentally disabled individuals, including Stanley Wilson Jr.,” the claim said.

Wilson had recently been deemed incompetent to stand trial after an August 2022 arrest on trespassing-related charges, according to the claim. For some time, Wilson has struggled with mental health issues and drug use, said John Carpenter, the family’s attorney.

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Wilson “suffered many many traumatic head injuries” and had in recent years been exhibiting the symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain condition that researchers have found to be extremely prevalent among former NFL football players, Carpenter said. Wilson had been previously arrested in Portland, Ore., after an attempt to burglarize a mansion while naked.

“That’s how we treat our people with mental illness, we incarcerate them or we let them live on the streets without any support,” Carpenter said, calling Wilson’s a particularly tragic story. “He had all the promise in the world, and he ended up like this.”

In 2014, Wilson had graduated from Stanford, where he played football from 2001 to 2004. The cornerback was drafted in the third round by the Detroit Lions in 2005. His professional football career ended three years later after he tore his Achilles tendon.

Some news outlets reported that Wilson died last month, citing law enforcement sources that he collapsed while being transferred from the county’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles to the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, which provides care to people ruled incompetent to stand trial.


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But Carpenter said the night before Wilson’s death, a nurse had completed a medical evaluation and found no issues. Carpenter said the family plans to file a wrongful-death lawsuit “to get to the truth of what actually happened.”

“It just doesn’t make any sense that he would be dead the next morning,” Carpenter said.

L.A. County spokesperson Jesus Ruiz declined to comment on the case, citing the pending litigation.

“L.A. County offers its sincere condolences to Mr. Wilson’s family,” Ruiz said in a statement. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the case of the status of Wilson’s autopsy.

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The county has 45 days to respond to the family’s claim — filed on behalf of Wilson’s father; mother, Pulane Lucas; and his estate — at which point the family can file the lawsuit.

Carpenter said Wilson’s parents reached out to him about a lawsuit after finding their son’s body in a “condition that was different than they expected it to be.”

“It’s easy to marginalize people and write off people with mental illness,” he said. “They’re treated with indifference, and we believe that played a factor in Stanley’s death.”