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Jail death lawsuit settled

County will pay $425,000 to children of man who died after fighting guards

Thomas Clouse, (509) 459-5495

The children of a man who died after a struggle with Spokane County jail guards will get $425,000 from taxpayers.

Spokane County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the settlement, which eventually will be paid to the two children of Benites S. Sichiro. The 39-year-old man suffered multiple Taser shocks, was beaten unconscious and was struck by a jailer using what is referred to as a “donkey kick” before dying of a lacerated liver on Jan. 29, 2006.

Commissioners offered no comment as they approved the settlement.

Attorneys Greg Devlin and Brian Hipperson filed the wrongful death suit, which originally sought $5 million, on behalf of Sichiro’s former wife, Menciana Meippen. Devlin said Tuesday 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 in 2006 after he was arrested on charges of trespassing, obstruction of justice and fourth-degree assault.

Devlin said Sichiro twice told the booking deputy that he was suffering from delirium tremens, or severe alcohol withdrawal that can cause severe irritation, hallucinations, severe sweating and confusion. But that information was never forwarded to the jail nurse, Devlin said.

“It was totally avoidable,” Devlin said.

After being booked into jail, Sichiro fought with jailers on three occasions, according to investigative reports. During those struggles, jailers used Taser guns seven times and they also struck him with their fists and knees – including the maneuver known as the donkey kick.

The suit named former Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk and several other jail employees.

Current Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Tuesday that he was unaware of the “donkey kick” procedure at the time of the incident. In talking with his staff, Knezovich said he discovered the term is a misnomer because it involves holding a prisoner stationary with a foot extended backward as the jailer is facing away from the prisoner.

Regardless, Knezovich said he ordered the procedure no longer be used, and he said jailers are upgrading their training to conform to national standards. That training could cost as much as $18,000 for the jail staff, which sounds like a lot of money until it’s compared to the $425,000 settlement, Knezovich said.

Despite the vote Tuesday, the case won’t officially be closed until it receives final approval from U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle.

Devlin argued that Sichiro would still be alive if jailers had simply followed the policies and procedures they already had in place.

“It’s a very tragic set of circumstances,” Devlin said. Sichiro “fell through the cracks in many ways.”

Staff writer Jim Camden contributed to this report.
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