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Los Angeles County Settles Lawsuit over Jail Prisoner’s Suicide for $1.7 Million

by Matt Clarke

On October 16, 2017, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.7 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by the family of a man who committed suicide at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility (TTCF).

Eric Loberg, 48, displayed signs of acute psychosis when he was arrested on burglary charges in September 2013 and booked into Los Angeles County’s jail system. He was held in the High Observation Housing unit at TTCF, then released to the Olive View Medical Center on an involuntary psychiatric hold after it was determined he was “gravely disabled.” The Los Angeles Public Guardian (LAPG) was appointed to look after him, and he was eventually transferred to the Olive Vista Behavioral Health Center in Pomona.

Over a year after he was involuntarily committed, Loberg escaped from Olive Vista. When he was found, there was no longer a bed available at the center. The LAPG told the Pomona Police Department that he would be transferred to another psychiatric hospital; instead, police took him to the county jail.

During booking, Loberg said he had been released from Olive Vista, and also lied about his mental health history and refused his psychiatric medication. The LAPG contacted the jail and informed them about his status and mental health condition.

Despite jail officials having knowledge of his condition and status, Loberg was placed in housing not designed for prisoners with profound psychiatric illnesses, which lacked barriers against prisoners committing suicide by jumping off the upper tier. Loberg jumped head-first off the upper tier and was fatally injured.

With the assistance of Los Angeles attorney Ronald O. Kaye, Loberg’s daughters filed a federal civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging the county, then-Sheriff Lee Baca and various jail security, medical and mental health staff had violated Loberg’s rights by failing to provide him with adequate mental health services and housing.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had repeatedly found that Los Angeles County’s jail system was deliberately indifferent to prisoners’ serious mental health needs, including inadequate suicide prevention policies. One such finding was made a few months before Loberg killed himself. In light of that history and the facts of the case, county officials decided to settle the lawsuit for $1.7 million.

“This case represents a perfect storm of deliberate indifference,” Kaye told the Los Angeles Times. “First and foremost, he should never have been in a jail setting.... Secondly, they completely dropped the ball in providing him with psychiatric intervention.”

The county plans to install steel mesh barriers to prevent similar suicides at TTCF, and mental health staff are now required to inform appointed guardians should a prisoner refuse medications. Further, in an agreement with the DOJ, the county is implementing sweeping reforms of the jail’s mental health services. See: Loberg v. County of Los Angeles, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:16-cv-06190-RAO. 

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Related legal case

Loberg v. County of Los Angeles