Family of man who died in police struggle to get $1.75M

Snohomish County will pay $1.75 million to the spouse of a Tulalip tribal member who died while struggling with police.

The payment settles a lawsuit over allegations that officers used excessive force on Cecil Lacy Jr. when they held him down, even as he told them he couldn’t breathe, The Seattle Times reported.

The lawsuit had been summarily dismissed by a state judge and then unanimously reinstated last year by the Washington Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit questioned the independence of an investigation into Lacy’s death done by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team and alleged the detectives, the county medical examiner and prosecutors conspired with a union-appointed attorney to leave Lacy’s last words — “I can’t breathe” — out of investigative documents.

“This is a big victory for our family,” Sara Lacy said on Tuesday. “We have been fighting for six years, in and out of court, to obtain justice.”

She and Cecil had three children and each had a child from a previous marriage, Sara Lacy said. He had worked as a commercial fisherman and drove a school bust for the Tulalip Tribal youth services.

Sara Lacy is a member of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability. She lobbied at the Washington Legislature last year to pass police reform measures including House Bill 1267, which established the agency in the governor’s office that will review police-related deaths.

A three-judge panel in the Court of Appeals Division I unanimously concluded that Sara Lacy could pursue a civil battery claim against the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Tyler Pendergrass, who confronted the 46-year-old Lacy on Sept. 18, 2015, as he walked along Marine Drive on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.

Lacy appeared intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, and Pendergrass called for backup with the intent of taking Lacy home or to the hospital, according to reports and court documents.

With officers from the Tulalip tribal police, Pendergrass said he tried to calm Lacy, and eventually one officer offered Lacy a ride home. They agreed to handcuff Lacy with his hands in front but after he got into the car, he became agitated and fled.

Pendergrass and two other officers wrestled him to the ground and pinned him facedown. At some point, Lacy quit struggling. However, the officers remained on top of him until additional officers arrived.

Other officers at the scene acknowledged to detectives Lacy said words to the effect of “I’m freaking out … I can’t breathe” just before he died, according to reports. Those words weren’t included in the task force report.