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California Juvenile Jail Ward, Brain Damaged from Suicide Attempt, Awarded $4.6 Million

California Juvenile Jail Ward, Brain Damaged from Suicide Attempt, Awarded $4.6 Million

A teenager incarcerated at a Kings County, California boot camp sustained permanent brain damage after he attempted suicide. His father then sued the county for negligence in failing to properly train their juvenile hall and boot camp employees, and was awarded $4.6 million by a Superior Court jury on March 26, 2008.

Christian Rodriguez, 19, was sent to the juvenile program after stealing his parents’ car and being involved in a hit- and-run accident. He was writing his girlfriend every day, but became despondent when she stopped writing back. Eleven days later, on February 2, 2004, Rodriguez attempted to hang himself in the boot camp bathroom. After he was eventually discovered he spent a month in the hospital; he was deemed severely brain damaged and confined to a wheelchair with the mental capacity of a three-year-old. He can no longer care for himself or talk.

Following a three-week trial, a jury found Kings County and three probation officials negligent in the prevention and response to Rodriguez’s suicide attempt. Specifically, they found boot camp Director Michael Torres 45% liable, while Probation Chief Dorothy Vandenberg was 20% liable. Kings County and probation officer Abraham Hernandez shared 35% liability.

The jurors took only one day to determine the damage award, which included $160,000 in punitive damages. The balance of the $4.6 million award covered medical care and loss of future income. Rodriguez’s attorney had argued for $9.8 million while defense counsel suggested $3.5 million. Rodriguez was represented by Fresno attorney Bob Patch. See: Rodriguez v. County of Kings, Kings County Superior Court, Case No. 05-C-0013.

Despite the large jury award, county officials said there would be no changes at the boot camp related to suicide prevention policies. “Our defense is that we have adequate policies and procedures” stated County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes. “I don’t really want to give any indication that we would do something that’s not consistent with what our defense was.”

Additional sources: Hanford Sentinel, Fresno Bee

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Related legal case

Rodriguez v. County of Kings