Mother of Issiah Downes, Man Killed in County Jail, Gets $350,000 from City

Categories: Crime
Issiah Downes
The city has reached a $350,000 settlement with the mother of Issiah Downes, the 300-pound inmate whose death at the county jail was ruled a homicide blamed on San Francisco sheriff's deputies.

The medical examiner said that Downes died of "probable respiratory arrest during prone restraint, with morbid obesity." Amy Hart, a medical examiner, told reporters that while the 2009 death was deemed a homicide, it doesn't necessarily carry criminal implications.

However, she did say that Issiah Downes would not have died at that time if it wasn't for the actions of sheriff's deputies.

The settlement is far less than the $50 million his mother, Esther Downes, had sued for in a 2010 wrongful death claim. But her attorney, Geri Green, says she has a serious illness and couldn't pursue a drawn-out legal case. "She's very infirm and not up to the task of fighting,"
Green says. "You need to be able to fight the battle and see it through to the end."

Esther Downes blamed her son's wrongful death on the city, Sheriff Michael Hennessey, Undersheriff Janet Dempsey, and several deputy sheriffs. We wrote in a blog last year that she accused the deputies of using restraining holds they knew were dangerous -- and they knew their actions had killed him, yet they tried to cover it up.

The chaos began when Issiah Downes protested after the deputies tried to make everyone on
his cell block turn off their TVs because his was too loud. The situation ended with Downes in handcuffs and his feet shackled. Deputies held him belly down on the ground, according to the claim.

He then started to complain that he couldn't breathe.

Issiah Downes was a diagnosed schizophrenic who had been in custody for several months. He had received counseling for suicidal tendencies and had attempted to gouge out an eye while in custody, which caused him to go partially blind.

The lawsuit also details accusations of illegal and unconstitutional restraint procedures, but the settlement agreement does not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

"What they're doing in the jails, it's a very bad situation," Green says. "Particularly for
people with mental illnesses."
Susan Fahey, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, said she couldn't comment on the allegations. Instead, she mourned the loss.

"We're saddened by anyone's death in our custody, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones," Fahey says.

Photo courtesy of Geri Green.

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