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$1 Million Settlement in Santa Clara, California Jail Suicide

California’s Santa Clara County paid $1 million to the estate of a mentally ill prisoner who committed suicide at the Santa Clara County Jail (SCCJ). The estate’s federal civil rights complaint claimed jail officials failed to provide necessary medical treatment for the prisoner.

During his years as a student at the University of California in Berkeley in the 1990’s, Luis Andrew Martinez became known as the “Naked Guy.” In 1992, he organized a “nude in” on campus and appeared on numerous TV talk programs to “prove that people define normalcy in their own terms.” Over the last ten years of his life, Martinez battled a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Martinez was arrested on December 29, 2003, as the result of an altercation between him and caretakers at a Santa Clara County funded facility for persons with mental health disabilities. Despite the caretakers’ preference that Martinez be taken to a hospital to continue medical care and treatment, he was arrested by police and taken to SCCJ.

Despite a jail psychiatrist recommending Martinez be placed in a special management housing unit for subacute mental health care, SCCJ placed him in open population, classifying him as maximum security that requires single celling and segregation from other prisoners.

Over the next few years, Martinez made two suicide attempts. While those outcries for help resulted in temporary attention, he always landed back into solitary isolation, which is a known risk factor for suicide. In addition to the isolation, Martinez did not receive proper medications for his condition.

“For Andrew, incarceration without medical care was a death sentence,” said his mother, Esther Krenn. On May 18, 2006, Martinez placed a plastic bag over his head in his isolation cell and suffocated himself.

In April 2009, the estate settled the lawsuit for $1 million and SCCJ agreed to change its policies regarding notification of family members when a prisoner attempts suicide or undergoes a severe psychiatric crisis.

The estate was represented by San Francisco attorney Geri Lynn Green. “Andrew was a victim of a failed system of criminalizing mental illness and warehousing sick people in jails without adequate facilities and qualified medical staffs for the treatment of their sickness,” said Green. See: Krenn v. County of Santa Clara, USDC, N.D. California, Case No: CV 07-02295.

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Related legal case

Krenn v. County of Santa Clara