Jail death ruled a "homicide," his family gets a $350,000 payout, but the deputies remain on the job despite the persistent efforts of a witness
Although the Sheriff Department's investigation report is not public record, it doesn't appear that it found any criminal conduct. San Francisco District Attorney's Office spokesperson Stephanie Ong Stillman told us, "We would have to be presented with something showing criminal conduct before we prosecute anyone...When someone dies in jail, it's a Sheriff's investigation."
Over at City Hall, the City Attorney's Office — which deals with civil suits against the City — wasn't exactly eager to pursue the matter. "We have to consider the cost for the city of taking the case to trial," says City Attorney spokesperson Matt Dorsey, adding that a trial is often not in the city's best interest.
The case didn't go to trial and was officially closed on May 18, 2011, two months after San Francisco settled with Esther Downes for $350,000. She died last June near her home in Hawaii and her surviving relatives declined comment on the lawsuit or Issiah Downes.
Like many of those who find their way into the judicial system, Downes had personal problems. He was morbidly obese, suffered from schizophrenia, received counseling for suicide (at one point he tried to gouge one of his eyes, leaving him partially blind), and had previous convictions for involuntary manslaughter, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and battery of a police officer. Yet he was paying his debts to society and getting help. He was a member of what public officials like to call "society's most vulnerable", which might turn out to be a great understatement if his mother's conspiracy charge and Dennis Damato's story are true.
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