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Calif. officials pay $4.3M to settle lawsuit against first responders over ‘improper restraints’

Coroner’s report states Reginal Payne suffered cardiac arrest after being restrained face down, in the prone position


Harriett Jefferson holds a painting of her son Reginald Payne while she stands with husband Rufus, center left, and their daughters Crystal, left, and Janine, right, at their home earlier this month in Foothill Farms. Payne died in 2020 after Sacramento police restrained him in a dangerous position as he suffered a medical emergency, according to city documents.

Sara Nevis/The Sacramento Bee/TNS

By Theresa Clift
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The city of Sacramento is paying a $4.35 million settlement to the family of an unarmed Black man who died after police held him down in a dangerous position in his parents’ living room.

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

In February 2020 Harriet Jefferson called 911 because her diabetic son, Reginald “Reggie” Payne, 48, was experiencing a medical emergency and needed a glucose IV — something she had done in the past. When firefighters arrived at the home, they determined they were unable to treat him, so they called three police officers to restrain him first. The officers, one of whom referred to Payne as a “big boy,” held him face down in the prone position, causing him to go into cardiac arrest, ultimately causing his death, according to the coroner’s report.

The settlement amount paid to the Payne family is slightly larger than the $4.1 million the city paid to the family of Stephon Clark, an unarmed Black man police fatally shot in 2018 after mistaking his cellphone for a gun. The city in 2019 paid a $5.2 settlement to the family of John Hernandez, whom police tased and beat into a coma.

The settlement, provided to The Sacramento Bee by Joseph Nicholson, attorney for Payne’s family, did not include any non-monetary elements such as policy changes. Filed in 2022, the suit sought an injunction to require police officers, firefighters and paramedics not to use “improper restraints” such as the prone position in emergency medical situations in the future. It also sought for the city to require officers to attend racial bias training and create a mechanism to discipline officers who engage in racial discrimination.

“The city never investigated Reggie’s death as a police use of force and never seriously considered why their officers and firefighters would allow an individual in a medical crisis to be ‘taken down’ and restrained like a dangerous criminal, essentially hogtied in the prone position in his own living room,” Nicholson said in an email. “Or why there was no urgency to help Reggie even after he became unconscious and unresponsive. ... While it is common that civil settlements are not understood as admissions of fault, we hope the city will not miss this opportunity for needed change.”

City spokesman Tim Swanson called the death “heartbreaking.”

“Every loss of life is tragic, and Reginald Payne’s family has suffered an agonizing loss,” Swanson said in an email. “While this settlement is not an admission of liability, the city has agreed with the family’s representatives that it is an appropriate resolution of this matter at this time, allowing both parties to avoid the ongoing risk and expense of a trial and to move forward.”

The city in 2022 fired fire captain Jeffrey Klein, who was in charge of the firefighters during the call. Disciplinary documents, which The Bee obtained through a California Public Records Act, said Klein should have intervened when he saw the officers applying a restraint Klein knew was dangerous. Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522 appealed the termination and in 2023 Klein won his job back, plus $138,000 in paid leave.

Firefighters Sean Holleman, Clinton Simons, Scott Caravalho and Eric Munson were also on the call. All are currently still employed by the department except Munson, Swanson said. Officers John Helmich, David Mower, and Kevin Moorman, who were all on the call, are all still employed by the police department.

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