Family files 2 suits against S.S.F. police

The family of a man who died in the custody of South San Francisco Police has filed two lawsuits against the police department, saying his death was the result of police brutality.

Filing one state lawsuit in March and one federal lawsuit June 16, the parents of Julio Ayala, 26, continue to maintain that their son died from excessive police force.

Ayala died April 3, 2005 after South San Francisco Police were called to the Airport Inn on Airport Boulevard when a hotel guest reported a man screaming and knocking on their door.

After a struggle with officers allegedly lasting 15 minutes, the police subdued Ayala by placing him in a canvas straitjacket designed to restrain his arms and legs while in a seated position. They then noticed he was not breathing.

His death was one of five that took place in police custody in 2005, a number officials have called unusually high for the county. Investigations by the District Attorney found no cause for criminal charges to be filed against any of the officers involved.

Vicki Sarmiento, the Ayala's attorney, said they believe he died from a combination of blows and kicks, an illegal chokehold and the body wrap.

“There's no immediate danger to the officers whatsoever that would justify that use of force,” Sarmiento said.

“Without provocation or legal justification, the officer-defendants subjected [Ayala] to excessive force, including but not limited to, unnecessary blows, kicks, bending of his legs, arching of his body, the application of full body weight by the officer-defendants on his back, legs, ankles and body, and other acts of violence while [Ayala] lay helplessly handcuffed on his stomach gasping for air,” according to the suit filed in San Mateo County Superior Court.

South San Francisco Assistant City Manager Marty Van Duyn said he could not comment because the case was in litigation. Police Sgt. Joni Lee said all 13 officers named in the suit were returned to work on the force after Ayala's death.

Ayala was naked and sweaty and “completely out of control,” said Kimberly Colwell, who is handling the case for South San Francisco, its police department, police Chief Mark Raffaelli and the officers named in the suit.

“He was apparently naked and drugged out of his mind going up and down the halls banging on doors and threatening people,” Colwell said. “What we now know is he had a fatal dose of cocaine.”

She said officers described him as having “superhuman strength” and that combined with his naked, sweaty body made it hard to get a hold of him.

The two suits have been linked, and the state lawsuit has been moved into the federal court system, she said.

Ayala's family members could not be reached yesterday for comment. They have previously called the incident an unprovoked assault and expressed concern that it might have been racially motivated.

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