Family of Tulalip man who died in police custody files suit

SEATTLE — The family of a man who died during a struggle with police on the Tulalip Indian Reservation last fall has filed a lawsuit accusing the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office of negligence and excessive force.

The wrongful death suit was filed Thursday in King County Superior Court. It follows an April claim that sought $4.5 million in damages.

Cecil Lacy Jr., 50, suffered a heart attack during a confrontation with a sheriff’s deputy and two tribal police officers. His family said he was shocked twice with a stun gun and pinned to the ground before his death.

As of Tuesday, the county had not been served with the lawsuit, said Jason Cummings, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor.

“When we receive it, we will review it and respond accordingly,” Cummings said.

The lawsuit was brought by Seattle attorney Ryan Dreveskracht on behalf of Lacy’s wife and daughter. They say Lacy went for nightly walks near his home.

Lacy was detained after being found walking the evening of Sept. 18, 2015, along Marine Drive. Someone had called 911, saying he posed a traffic hazard.

Police said they were trying to get him off the road because it wasn’t safe.

Lacy had a history of mental illness. He shared that information with the officers who confronted him. He asked to be allowed to walk home, according to the lawsuit. The police insisted on giving him a ride.

The lawsuit alleges that police should have recognized the symptoms of “excited delirium,” a state of agitation often documented when people die in police custody, particularly in cases of mental illness or substance abuse.

The county medical examiner earlier reported that Lacy’s case “has some features” of delirium but that the death “did not classically fit that definition.”

Lacy was told he would be searched and handcuffed. He reportedly consented but when the officers began trying to get him into a tribal police car, he resisted. Police say Lacy struggled with them before they used the stun gun.

“Mr. Lacy had every right to walk away from the officers, since, critically, he was not under arrest,” Dreveskracht wrote in the suit.

When police use force it is too often against those living with mental illness or those impaired from drugs or alcohol, the lawyer said Tuesday in a prepared statement. A separate lawsuit is being pursued against the tribal police, he said. Those documents were not available Tuesday.

“The Lacy family remains deeply saddened,” Dreveskracht said. They also worry about the level of training for other local officers who might interact with the mentally ill, especially among the American Indian population, he said.

The family believes suffocation from being pinned contributed to Lacy’s death. The county medical examiner’s autopsy determined the struggle was a factor, along with heart problems and methamphetamine use.

All use-of-force deaths are reviewed by Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe to determine if police acted lawfully. Roe in June issued a decision in the Lacy case, saying the death was a tragic accident but not a crime.

The lawsuit does not name a dollar amount being sought.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @rikkiking.

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