Two people are suing Los Angeles County and four sheriff’s deputies, alleging the deputies ignored their pleas to help a Lancaster man who was having trouble breathing at a home in that city in 2020 and who died later at a hospital.
Anthony Coleman and Shaneece Flax, both of whom are Black, brought the suit on Aug. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging civil rights violations, battery, wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. The plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory damages against the county and punitive damages against the deputies.
“Defendants’ conduct … was intentional and was based on plaintiffs’ race, color, political affiliation and their perceptions thereof, and in retaliation for plaintiffs’ speech and expression,” the suit alleges.
Family members of Derrick Flax found him not breathing in a bedroom of his Lancaster home on July 4, 2020, so his relatives called 911 and a brother began performing CPR, the suit states.
A deputy who arrived shortly after 1 a.m. “immediately identified Derrick Flax and his family as Black and subscribing to certain political affiliations,” the suit states. “Rather than rendering aid to Derrick Flax, comforting the family or taking steps to ease the family’s tension, (the deputy) escalated the situation and antagonized the distraught family by, among other things, herding several of them into a bedroom where they were detained against their will.”
Other deputies arrived and detained the remaining relatives in the kitchen, according to the suit.
“Despite their repeated cries for help, to the family’s horror the deputies rendered no aid to Derrick Flax, who remained breathless and motionless,” according to the suit.
Deputies continued to detain the family members after emergency personnel arrived until they finally released Derrick Flax’s mother, Shannon Hunsaker, then later the rest of his relatives, the suit states.
But instead of comforting the family or inquiring about Derrick Flax’s condition, the deputies “chased down and gang tackled Coleman, pinned him face down to the street with knees and legs pressed into his back, restrained his arms and shot him multiple times with a stun gun,” the suit alleges.
Meanwhile, Derrick Flax was taken to the Antelope Valley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, the suit states.
Coleman and Shaneece Flax were both arrested. Coleman was charged with resisting a peace officer and other allegations and Shaneece Flax with battery on a peace officer, but all charges against both were later dismissed, according to the suit.