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Tulare County, California Settles Prisoner Suicide Case for $1 Million

Mario Lopez, Jr., according to his attorney's federal civil rights complaint filed by his family in 2011 after his suicide in the Tulare County, California jail, "was a mentally ill man who had suffered for many years from, among other illnesses, depression and schizophrenia, which are serious but treatable psychiatric conditions. With appropriate medication and treatment, Decedent continued to enjoy life’s activities and to have strong and bonding relationships with his mother, sons and other family members. Prior to the incidents described herein, Decedent had shared a home with his mother in Ivanhoe, California, for approximately fifteen years."

Lopez continued to live with his mother, until August 27, 2010, when he suffered a serious relapse of his mental health problems, and his mother contacted local police to have him taken to the hospital for treatment. As stated in the complaint, Lopez "was obviously a mentally ill and/or emotionally disturbed person requiring medical/psychiatric care pursuant to California Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150," requiring officers to be taken to a medical facility for a 72-hour mental health evaluation. Instead, Lopez was taken to the Tulare County Jail in Visalia, California and placed in the general population. While in custody at that facility, and after several incidents with jail personnel and other prisoners where he exhibited clear and obvious signs of mental illness, Lopez took his own life.

His family's lawsuit filed shortly after his death alleged that Tulare County correctional officials failed to take the proper precautions to place him in a safety cell, and putting him on suicide watch, and were deliberately indifferent to Lopez’ mental health problems that they were put on notice of at the time he was removed from his residence. The lawsuit also alleged that defendants "acted in conformity with Tulare County's... custom, policy and practice of denying inmates at the jails access to medical and mental health attention and suicide watch, failing to properly classify, house, and/or monitor inmates suffering from medical and mental health disabilities and/or failing to provide medical and mental health care for serious medical and psychiatric conditions."

After failing to the get the lawsuit dismissed, Tulare County settled the case for $1 million in 2012, the settlement resulting in the dismissal of the lawsuit filed in 2011, but without any admission of wrongdoing on the part of defendants. Plaintiffs were represented by attorneys Michael J. Haddad, Julia Sherwin, and Gina Altomare, of Haddad and Sherwin, located in Oakland, California. See: Lopez v. County of Tulare, et al., 11 cv 01547, United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, 2012. 

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Related legal case

Lopez v. County of Tulare, et al.