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Calif. wrongful death suit seeks ban on use of ‘improper restraints’ in medical emergencies

The suit stems from the death of a Sacramento man who was treated for low blood sugar while handcuffed in a prone position


The family of a Sacramento man who died after being handcuffed in a prone position during a medical emergency has filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking damages and an injunction to halt the use of “improper restraints” during medical emergencies.


Theresa Clift
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The family members of a Black man who died after police handcuffed him during a medical emergency have sued the city of Sacramento.

Reginald Payne’s son, mother and father are listed as the plaintiffs on the wrongful death lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court. The lawsuit also alleges the officers racially discriminated against the man, and seeks an injunction for the city to stop using “improper restraints” during medical emergencies.

The city declined comment on the lawsuit because it has not yet been served with it, city spokesman Tim Swanson said. The Police Department also declined comment because it does not comment on pending litigation, a spokesperson said. The police investigation into the incident is still active.

On Feb. 25, Harriet Jefferson called 911 to request emergency assistance for her son, Payne, a diabetic suffering from low blood sugar, the lawsuit said. Several fire department personnel arrived to the home in the North City Farms neighborhood in south Sacramento.

In a video released by the department in April, a firefighter can be heard telling a police officer that they called the police for help because the man was large and was swinging his legs and arms around. That officer called two more officers and can be heard saying the man is a “big boy.”

When the officers enter the home, the videos show Payne, 48, on the couch, moving erratically but not forcefully, making guttural noises in an apparent state of distress.

The officers place Payne on his stomach and cuff his hands behind his back so medics can provide treatment. At least three officers can be seen holding down Payne while he screamed and sobbed. About 14 minutes after the first officer arrived at the home, Payne stops making noises and stops moving, the videos show.

A medic then can be seen giving an injection into Payne’s shoulder, which a Sacramento Fire Department spokesman later said would help with his low blood sugar. The injection takes 25 to 45 minutes to start working, so the medics put him on a gurney and transported him to the hospital, they can be heard telling his mother on the video.

Once Payne was in the ambulance, fire personnel told the officers that Payne stopped breathing, and medics began performing CPR on him, a police news release from April said.

Payne was taken to Sutter Medical Center, but never regained consciousness, the lawsuit said. He was declared dead March 3.

The cause of death was “sudden cardiac arrest while being restrained in prone position,” according to Sacramento County Coroner Kim Gin.

The lawsuit alleges that the officers caused Payne’s death because they restrained him on his stomach with his arms behind his back — in the so-called “prone position” — which can cause respiratory arrest and death from asphyxia or aspiration.

The lawsuit also claims the officers engaged in racial discrimination against Payne, and their actions were based on his race or color, violating California’s Bane Act, Ralph Act and Unruh Civil Rights Act.

In addition to monetary damages, the lawsuit seeks an injunction to require police officers, firefighters and paramedics do not use “improper restraints” such as the prone position in emergency medical situations in the future. It also seeks for the city to require officers to attend racial bias training and create a mechanism to discipline officers who engage in racial discrimination.


(c)2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)