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San Diego County Hit With $3 Million Dollar Jury Verdict In Prisoner Jail Death

In 2011, Daniel Sisson, a 21-year-old asthma-sufferer with a severe heroin addiction and already in a drug-diversion program in San Diego County, California, was arrested again for drug possession. When he went with his mother to court to face yet another drug charge, he was arrested and taken into custody. Two days later Daniel Sisson was dead.

Sisson's family filed suit in federal district court, alleging violations of the decedent's civil rights, and after a jury trial, his estate won a judgment of $3 million dollars.

The complaint alleged that, "(a)ccording to the coroner, Daniel’s cause of death was 'asphyxia due to asthma.'” It further alleged that despite his known heroin addiction and his asthmatic condition, jail officials were deliberately indifferent to his medical problems.

According to the complaint, at the San Diego County Jail, "(c)ontrary to accepted medical practice, detoxing inmates are simply placed in general population, without medical supervision and without an individualized medical treatment plan. ... Policymakers know that their jails and medical staff will encounter detoxing inmates with underlying chronic illnesses that are exacerbated by the withdrawal process, yet they fail to provide a screening system to identify and address these needs."

The complaint continued: "(f)urther contributing to Daniel’s unnecessary death was the County’s custom, policy and practice to not perform the mandatory hourly inmate safety checks. Title 15, Section 1027 of the California Code of Regulations mandates that 'at least hourly safety checks' are to be performed by a sufficient number of correctional (employees.)"

The jury agreed, finding that San Diego County and its employees violated the civil rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, failed to properly administer a heroin detoxification program for its prisoners, failed to perform hourly security checks, and failed to properly train its employees, and awarded the estate of the deceased prisoner $3,000,000. The jury did side with San Diego County in denying recovery for wrongful death. Petitioner's counsel filed for fees, permissible under federal civil rights law to the prevailing party, and received a fee award of $862,515.64.

Representing the plaintiffs in this case was Christopher Morris of the law firm of

Aguirre, Morris, and Severson, LLP, of San Diego California. See: Brummett v. County of San Diego, 12-cv-1428, U.S. District Court of the Southern District of California, November12, 2014.

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Related legal case

Brummett v. County of San Diego