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California County Jail, Private Medical Provider to Pay $825,000 for Prisoner’s Death

by Chad Marks

Lara Ann Gillis, a 47-year-old mother, died in December 2015 after spending just over 24 hours at a county jail.

Gillis was arrested on December 4, 2015 in Monterey County, California on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs, obstructing law enforcement and possession of marijuana. At the time of her arrest she was yelling, “Please help me! I don’t want to die!”

Once booked into the county jail, she was placed in restraints and held in a safety cell with no sink or toilet, reportedly because she was combative. “Guards provided her with no food and only a single cup of water,” said attorney Elise Sanguinetti.

A nurse discovered Gillis lying on her side, covered in feces, moaning and unresponsive. It look almost an hour for jail staff to call an ambulance. Gillis was transferred to a hospital where it was determined she was suffering from sepsis, severe dehydration and kidney failure. Nine days after being hospitalized, she became the sixth Monterey County jail prisoner to die in 2015. An autopsy found Gillis’ death was caused by organ failure due to a urinary tract infection, which could have been treated with antibiotics.

Her sons, represented by Sanguinetti, filed a federal wrongful death suit against Monterey County and the California Forensic Medical Group – the jail’s private medical provider, now part of a company called Wellpath. The suit alleged that a lack of medical care at the jail had caused Gillis’ death. Both the county and the company agreed to settle the case for $825,000, splitting the cost equally.

Following the settlement agreement Sanguinetti said, “It’s a just result that will make a real difference for the surviving children of Ms. Gillis. The County and CFMG could and should have provided better care for this poor woman, and hopefully as a result of this lawsuit and settlement, jails and law enforcement will better enforce standards of care for those who have been incarcerated from now on.” 

Given the many other cases where prisoners have died due to inadequate medical care, that optimistic outlook seems unlikely. The settlement was reached in September 2018. See: Villarreal v. Monterey County, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:16-cv-06672-LHK. 

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Additional sources: thecalifornian.com, montereycountyweekly.com

Related legal case

Villarreal v. Monterey County