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California County Jail Settles Wrongful Death Suit for $600,000

In December 2009, the Board of San Joaquin County, California approved a $600,000 settlement to resolve a federal lawsuit filed by the family of a 71-year-old man who died of a heart attack following his release from jail.

On March 4, 2006, Guillermo Davila was arrested by Tracy City Police for public intoxication after he was found in someone else’s home. He was taken to the San Joaquin County Jail.
During the booking process, jail guard Thomas Kendrick allegedly failed to perform a required medical screening. Ac-cording to the suit filed by Davila’s family, Kendrick checked “no” to questions on a screening form related to whether Davila suffered from diabetes or heart disease, was under the care of a physician or was taking any medications, without actually asking him those questions. As a result, an on-duty nurse never personally examined Davila.

Davila was released several hours later after sobering up. Before his release, jail staff did not make sure he had transportation home. He was found dead a few days later about a mile from the jail, having died due to a heart attack.

Davila’s family argued the heart attack was brought on by hypothermia, as it was cold outside on the night that he was released. Thus, the family argued, Davila’s death was preventable had Kendrick properly screened him and had the jail staff ensured that he was not released until first verifying that transportation had been arranged or was available.

The county’s decision to settle the case followed an order by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, who granted in part and denied in part a motion for summary judgment. Judge Karlton decided the case could go forward after finding there were disputed issues of material fact regarding whether Kendrick had properly screened Davila. The county’s lack of a release policy for prisoners with medical conditions was also a factor in the court’s decision.
According to an internal memo from the County’s Chief Deputy Counsel, Kristen Hegge, “timely economic resolution” of the Davila family’s claims was “in the best interest of the county.” The total settlement amount was $600,000.

The case is presently on appeal on Judge Karlton’s grant of summary judgment to other defendants, including the City of Tracy and individual police officers. Davila’s family was represented by attorneys Walter H. Walker III and Wilda L. White of Walker, Hamilton & Koenig, a San Francisco law firm. See: Davila v. County of San Joaquin, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:06-cv-02691-LKK-EFB.

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Related legal case

Davila v. County of San Joaquin