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NorCal JUCO stud who turned to crime, died in prison after leaving NFL had complained of brain damage

OROVILLE, Calif. — A football player who carved out a legacy as a NorCal standout during his time at Butte College, before turning to crime and dying in prison after leaving the NFL, had previously complained of brain damage.

Saousoalii “Junior” Siavii, 43, was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital after prison officials found him unresponsive Thursday afternoon. A press release emailed to reporters by PIO Anna Armijo unveiled little details on the man’s sudden and unexpected death, which came as he awaited trial on gun and drug charges.

“On Thursday, January 13, 2022, at approximately 2:35 pm, inmate Saousoalii Siavii was found unresponsive at the United States Penitentiary (USP) Leavenworth in Leavenworth, Kansas,” the release said. “Responding staff immediately initiated life-saving measures. Staff requested emergency medical services (EMS) and life-saving efforts continued. Mr. Siavii was transported by EMS to a local hospital and subsequently pronounced deceased by hospital staff.”

A SacUpdate analysis of court records has revealed that Siavii had previously complained of brain damage following his 6-year NFL career and was a plaintiff in a massive, class-action lawsuit brought by thousands of former athletes displaying symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a brain condition caused by repeated concussions closely tied to ex-athletes also known as CTE.

Siavii, in a complaint submitted three years after his retirement, added his name to the sprawling lawsuit accusing the league of concealing the long-term effects of head impacts in football, glorifying violence, and “turning a blind eye” to the risk repeated concussions posed to players.

Siavii said he sustained “repetitive, traumatic sub-concussive and/or concussive head impacts” during NFL games and practices, which caused him to develop continuing symptoms tied to CTE including changes in his mood, decision making, and cognitive function. Other symptoms of the condition include aggression, impulsivity, and poor executive functioning.

The lawsuit was later settled for $765M, saving the NFL from being forced to turn over internal documents on the league’s conduct as it pertains to player health and brain damage.

It’s currently unknown whether Siavii had CTE, but his family could find out through post-mortem brain tissue analysis done by a doctor – the only way to effectively diagnose the condition. If he had the condition, it could provide crucial context to his alleged criminal activity after he left the world of professional sports. A 2016 study of adults living in Canada found that individuals with a history of traumatic brain injury were almost 3 times more likely to wind up behind bars than individuals who didn’t.

Siavii had a history of illegal, sometimes violent conduct in the years before his death. Police officers in Missouri have testified that he was known to carry guns, fight with law enforcement, and use drugs. Officers in 2018 pulled him over for failing to signal a lane change as he left a “known drug house” and found a straw in his car containing cocaine.

In 2019, his most recent arrest that resulted in the federal charges he was held in prison for, police were called to the parking lot of a cash-for-gold store in Missouri after a man said he saw Siavii park a Jeep that was stolen from someone he knew. When Siavii saw the man on the phone watching him, he allegedly began to flee.

Siavii told responding officers “I wasn’t in that car, I didn’t do anything,” and began to “disregard commands” before being tased twice. After being tased, he began fighting with officers and a 9mm Smith and Wesson fell from his waistband. Officers were able to take Siavii into custody after rendering him unconscious using a controversial neck restraint.

While incarcerated, Siavii was indicted alongside eight others in an alleged meth distribution conspiracy. Most details in that case are currently unknown, but a defendant who has since pleaded guilty to one felony told investigators she repeatedly sold meth to the former NFL player in hotel rooms.

Ethan Biando
Ethan Biando is a freelance journalist from Sacramento. His writing focuses on crime, courts, and policing. Find him on Twitter @ethanb822

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