County settles ‘donkey kick’ death suit
The Spokane County Commission voted unanimously today to approve a $425,000 settlement that will eventually be paid to the children of a man who died following a struggle with jailers.
Benites S. Sichiro suffered multiple Taser shocks, was beaten unconscious and struck with jailer’s “donkey kick” before the 39-year-old died of a lacerated liver on Jan. 29, 2006.
Commissioners offered no comment as they approved the settlement today.
Attorneys Greg Devlin and Brian Hipperson filed the wrongful death suit on behalf of Sichiro’s former wife, Menciana Meippen. Devlin said today that he is glad the case has been resolved.
“I think it’s a fair settlement,” Devlin said. “Now these two minor children will have sufficient funds to go to college or buy houses. But it doesn’t bring their father back.”
The incident began when Sichiro was brought to the Spokane County Jail. Devlin said Sichiro twice told the booking deputy — who noted it in the record — that he was suffering from delirium tremens, or severe alcohol withdrawal that can cause irritation, hallucinations, sweating and confusion.
But that information was never forwarded to the jail nurse, Devlin said.
“It was totally avoidable,” Devlin said. “It seemed as if they didn’t have an adequate understanding of” delirium tremens. “A person doesn’t really have the ability to understand anything when they are delirious like that.”
After being booked on charges of trespassing, obstruction of justice and fourth-degree assault, Sichiro fought with jailers on three occasions, according to investigative reports.
During those struggles, jailers used Taser guns seven times and struck him with their fists and knees – including the maneuver known as the donkey kick.
Finally, after jailers tied Sichiro to a “restraint chair,” he lapsed into unconsciousness. He later died at a hospital.
The donkey kick subsequently was banned as an acceptable control method used by Spokane County jailers.
The medical examiner ruled Sichiro’s death as a homicide after determining he died from a lacerated liver and other internal injuries.
John C. Elam, the jailer who delivered the donkey kick, was hired three weeks later to become a Spokane police officer – a job he held a brief time before being dismissed from the force for lying.
Devlin said he’s not even sure the so-called donkey kick was the fatal blow.
“It’s a very tragic set of circumstances,” he said.
The case awaits final approval by U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle. Had it gone to trial, a jury could have ordered the county to pay much more than the settled amount, including punitive damages for out of pocket expenses, pain and suffering and loss of parent child relationship, Devlin said.
“I’m still not convinced that (jailers) are getting the proper training … to recognize potentially life threatening situations,” Devlin said. Sichiro “fell through the cracks in many ways.”