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California County Settles Jail Death for $300,000

by Ed Lyon

On February 10, 2015, Alexander Jeffrey Sutherland was arrested in Manteca, California and charged with public intoxication. The police took him to the San Joaquin County Jail (SJCJ).

After booking, Sutherland, 27, was placed in an isolated sobering cell, which required him to be monitored at 15-minute intervals to ensure his well-being. This was not the SJCJ’s first encounter with Sutherland; in fact, it was his 107th visit to the jail. Ninety-eight of those prior visits had been alcohol-related.

Jail records verified that from 9:41 p.m. until 11:10 p.m., jailers checked on Sutherland 11 times. The intervals between two of those checks exceeded 15 minutes by one and eight minutes. Jailer Lynda Mendoza became occupied with other matters and did not perform another check on Sutherland until 12:09 a.m. the next morning, during which time he died.

SJCJ staff attempted unsuccessfully to revive him until 12:40 a.m., when he was officially pronounced dead.

It was not known how ill Sutherland really was until a post-mortem was performed. The county’s forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, discovered that Sutherland had been suffering “from alcohol-related liver and pancreatic disease.” The toxicology screen revealed alcohol and methamphetamines in his system.

Sutherland’s parents, represented by Stockton, California attorneys Gilbert D. Somera, Trina C. Cervantes and Stewart M. Tabak, filed a wrongful death suit in state superior court with a simultaneous claim against San Joaquin County. In April 2019, the county’s Board of Supervisors approved a $300,000 settlement. See: Sutherland v. City of Manteca, San Joaquin County Superior Court, Stockton Branch (CA), Case No. STK-CV-UPI-2016-0000290. 


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Related legal case

Sutherland v. City of Manteca