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Antioch Police Accused Of Smothering Distressed Man To Death During Arrest

ANTIOCH (CBS SF) -- A lawsuit alleging police misconduct in the death of a delirious man last year was filed late last week against the city of Antioch and members of its police force.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court on July 1, accuses three officers and a sergeant of smothering Rakeem Rucks in dirt while ignoring signs of obvious distress before he died as they attempted to arrest him on June 10, 2015.

The wrongful death suit also accuses a detective of concealing eyewitness accounts during a coroner's inquest of the man screaming, "I can't breathe," in a manner that the plaintiffs regard as "eerily reminiscent" of the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner.

During that coroner's inquest on Jan. 21, a jury ruled that the death of the 34-year-old father of four was accidental. It was reportedly determined that he died of a heart attack and had methamphetamine in his system.

Antioch police originally only said that the Rucks had "suffered medical distress" as he was being taken into custody when they announced his death in a news release. It was said that he knocked down an apartment door in the area the day of the incident.

In the lawsuit, the scuffle between Rucks and police is alluded to as a cause of the man's death. It states that officers "continued to smother Rucks until he took his last breath and died face down in the dirt."

According to the lawsuit, the incident began with a 911 call Rucks made at about 12:30 p.m. while having a psychiatric disturbance. He reported that people carrying guns were chasing him, according to the lawsuit.

Rucks, who was at Delta Pines apartment complex at 2301 Sycamore Drive in Antioch, was apparently contacted by officers, who noticed he was sweating profusely and afraid for his life.

Rucks was compliant as officers handcuffed him and took him over to their patrol car, according to the lawsuit. It then describes an officer, Chris Kidd, inexplicably leg sweeping the man and taking him to the ground.

The lawsuit alleges that officers Casey Brogden and Thomas Smith, as well as Sgt. Rick Smith, joined in pressing Rucks into the dirt for around 10 to 12 minutes, responding to his pleas by telling him that he was "fine" and that he should "calm down."

Although officers allegedly observed Rucks inhaling dirt and starting to breathe heavily, the lawsuit states that the use of force continued until the man was unresponsive and later died.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Antioch police Detective Brian Rose remained quiet about details from witnesses during a coroner's inquest.

Combined with a lack of any disciplinary actions, the lawsuit points to a failure within the police department as a whole and accuses it of having an entrenched culture of tolerating use of deadly force and cover up efforts.

Rucks was familiar to the department from at least one previous encounter. On July 30, 2013, he led police on a chase after he allegedly attacked a woman in Antioch.

Police said the woman was later uncooperative and interfered with the investigation, but Rucks was still eventually arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, resisting arrest and possession of a stolen gun.

Antioch police did not immediately respond to requests for a comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed by civil rights attorney John Burris on behalf of the man's family, is seeking various financial damages.

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