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Los Angeles County Settles Jail Suicide Suit for $1.6 Million

Almost two years after a prisoner committed suicide at the Los Angeles County Jail, the county settled a lawsuit brought by his parents for $1.6 million. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.1].

Austin Losorelli hung himself at the jail despite the fact that both he and his father, Los Angeles Police Department lieutenant Joe Losorelli, had informed jail personnel that Austin was hallucinating and hearing voices, had previously attempted suicide and had been hospitalized for psychotic behavior. Jail staff apparently concerned themselves more with protecting Losorelli, 23, from other prisoners due to his status as the son of a law enforcement officer than they did with protecting him from himself.

Losorelli was initially arrested for assaultive behavior and resisting arrest, and booked into the LA County Jail. His mental illness and suicidal behavior were noted, and the judge sentenced him to probation and ordered his conditional release to a Residential Treatment Program for people with mental health problems.

Instead of transferring him to the treatment program, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) sent Losorelli to his parents’ home where he awaited placement in the program. His condition deteriorated and his parents requested that he be rearrested so he would get priority for placement in the program.

LASD detectives rearrested Losorelli and took him to the jail. Instead of providing him with mental health services, jail employees cleared him to be housed in the general population. Noting that he was the son of a police officer, they placed him in special housing for protection. Other prisoners told guards that Losorelli’s behavior was becoming increasingly bizarre, and he was moved to a solitary cell but not put on suicide watch. He hung himself with a sheet while in solitary; his body was discovered by a jail trustee.

Aided by Pasadena attorney Ronald O. Kaye, Losorelli’s parents filed a federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that alleged violations of their son’s constitutional rights and pendent state statutory violations and torts. The county settled the lawsuit for $1.6 million, inclusive of attorney fees, on September 1, 2015.

“This was a perfect storm of deliberate indifference and malfeasance by the Department of Mental Health and the Sheriff’s Department,” said Kaye.

The Losorellis pledged to donate most of the money to help the mentally ill. As part of the settlement, the LASD agreed to reduce suicide hazards, such as the air vent that Losorelli used to hang himself from in his cell. An independent federal monitor will oversee compliance. The same day that it approved the settlement agreement, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors reaffirmed a previous decision to build a new 3,885-bed jail that focuses on mental health care and to fund a program to divert people from jail to mental health treatment. See: Losorelli v. County of Los Angeles, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:14-cv-05062-R-SH.

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Related legal case

Losorelli v. County of Los Angeles