Houston mom preparing civil lawsuit against city, police after son's in-custody death ruled homicide

Jessica Willey Image
Saturday, February 4, 2023
Houston mom preparing civil lawsuit against city, police after son's in-custody death ruled homicide
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Jermaine Sonnier was 19 when he died while in HPD custody. A new ruling, though, is adding to his mom's quest to hold Houston accountable.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The mother of a man who died while in Houston police custody is demanding accountability after his death was ruled a homicide.

Jermaine Sonnier, 19, died on June 16, 2021.

According to HPD, a drug investigation led to a traffic stop, and body-worn camera video, which the department released in July 2021, shows Sonnier take off running. When officers catch up with him, one deploys a Taser. There is a struggle.

One officer yells, "Will you comply, please?"

Sonnier complains about his heart and difficulty breathing. He continues to say, "I can't breathe," after emergency medical personnel arrives. They take him to the hospital. Within a couple hours, Sonnier died.

"He tried to warn them. He tried to warn them and they just thought this was a game," Meghan Sonnier, Jermaine's mother, said. "I think they killed him. They could have done more."

According to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, Sonnier's death has been ruled a homicide. His cause of death is "arrhythmia associated with acute methamphetamine toxicity during physical pursuit and restraint." Police believe he swallowed drugs right before the traffic stop.

Meghan Sonnier and her attorney believe if it wasn't for the police interaction, Sonnier would still be alive.

"Jermaine's death was tragic and it was preventable," attorney Daryl Washington said. "He's begging for help and he's not given that help and that's unacceptable."

Houston Police Officers' Union president, Doug Griffith, said the eight officers involved have already been cleared from internal investigations.

"You take someone who's resisting arrest and it's not pretty. It does look ugly. If you look at the video, no one hits him, no one kicks him, no one does anything but try to restrain, hold him down to get handcuffs on him. And when they get the handcuffs on him, he still resists that," Griffith explained.

In a statement, HPD said, "a thorough investigation into the incident was conducted and, based on the findings, the officers remain on active duty."

The case will be presented to a grand jury within the next 30 days, according to the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

"I've watched all those videos. I'm not concerned. They did not abuse him in any way, shape or form," Griffith added.

Sonnier's mother, who plans to file a civil lawsuit, is frustrated about how long and slow the process and wants accountability.

"I think all the officers should be held responsible. The city, the mayor. They need to be held accountable for my son's death," Meghan Sonnier said.

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