OXNARD, Calif. (AP) — A jury awarded $2.9 million to the family of a California man who died in police custody after he took a large amount of methamphetamine and later told officers who tried to restrain him that he could not breathe.
Family members of Robert Ramirez sued the Oxnard Police Department in federal court after the 26-year-old died in June 2012. Jurors deliberated for about three days before finding Wednesday that all seven officers named in the suit had liability, the Ventura County Star reported (http://bit.ly/1JxJtt9 ).
An autopsy report from Ventura County found Ramirez died of "active prone restraint" after officers held him down so he could get medical help.
Attorneys for the city about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles argued that he died of the massive amount of drugs in his system. Oxnard Police Chief Jeri Williams told the newspaper that she was surprised by the verdict and the city would evaluate its next steps.
An investigation by the district attorney's office found the officers were "fully justified" in the force they used to restrain Ramirez, who was acting erratically after ingesting the drugs. Police audio recordings show officers spoke calmly and asked Ramirez to lie on his stomach so medical workers could help him.
The family's lawyers said seven officers surrounded Ramirez while he was sitting down. When he stood up, they "forcefully" took him to the ground even though he didn't try to run away or hurt the officers, according to a statement by the family's attorney, Dale Galipo.
The officers were on his head, neck and back for about four minutes in what one witness called a "dog pile," Galipo said. Ramirez repeatedly said he could not breathe, the recordings showed, and some officers noted he appeared not to be breathing.
"The involved officers remained on top of Ramirez as he lay prone," Galipo's statement said. "During the trial, one of the defendant officers testified that Ramirez's face had already turned blue and gray by the time officers had gotten off."
Ramirez was not responsive when paramedics were allowed to check on him. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a hospital, according to the newspaper.
Information from: Ventura County Star, http://venturacountystar.com