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California Jail Prisoner Loses Limbs, but Faces Setback in Lawsuit Alleging Medical Neglect

The former inmate, Perry Belden, had sought documents proving the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office (SBCSO) failed to implement jail health care changes it agreed to in settling an earlier lawsuit. But U.S. District Judge Kenly Kiya Kato ruled against Belden.

Judge Kato noted that the settlement for that suit, Turner v. San Bernardino, was agreed to in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the parties in 2015, well before Belden lost his hand and limbs in April 2018. However, the settlement itself was not officially approved by the parties and the court until June 2018 – killing Belden’s motions pursuant to it.

Belden was 27 when he was captured on March 27, 2018, by SBCSO deputies, 11 days after his mother called them to say he had assaulted her husband, Belden’s stepfather. Tracking Belden to a friend’s attic, deputies used pepper spray to flush him out. But the spray obscured Belden’s vision. He went to step on a ceiling joist and missed it, falling through the sheetrock ceiling to the floor below.

That ceiling damage constituted the second charge against Belden: felony vandalism. He was taken by the arresting deputies to Hi-Desert Medical Center (HDMC) in Joshua Tree, where the attending physician noted his injuries and ordered vital-sign monitoring along with daily doses of the anti-seizure prescription drug Klonopin to treat withdrawal from heroin use that Belden confessed to. He was then cleared to be booked into SBCSO’s Morongo Basin Station, also in Joshua Tree.

Two days later, Belden told jailers at the small, 80-bed facility, that he was seriously sick and that he didn’t believe it was due to heroin withdrawal. The jailers’ response, according to the suit Belden later filed, was: “That’s what happens when you’re a crackhead.”

Surveillance video showed Belden remained unconscious during most of the seven days he spent at the jail. When he was conscious, he said, jail nurses ignored his repeated pleas for help. Medical records showed he was not given the prescribed Klonopin, nor were his vital signs checked.

At his court appearance, he accepted a deal for a guilty plea that would send him for a two-year term to a state prison, in part because he expected his medical needs would be met there, he said. He was transferred to SBCSO’s West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

But very soon, on April 4, 2018, he was rushed to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in critical condition, suffering severe dehydration, sepsis and renal failure. Belden went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated. Ultimately, he required amputation of both legs below his knees and his left hand. He also suffered deformity and scarring in his right hand.

Sharon Brunner, one of his attorneys, stressed: “You don’t get that sick and dehydrated without showing deathly ill signs for at least two to three days before that.”

Because he had to be held in a hospital for the next five months, rather than in prison as he’d agreed to in his plea deal, Belden’s attorneys were able to get the deal and his conviction tossed. He was released and immediately filed a claim for his injuries with the county, which was denied. That’s when his attorneys filed suit alleging his civil rights were violated by SBCSO’s failure to provide adequate health care.

Though Belden has lost an important part of his argument, Judge Kato let the lawsuit proceed. It alleges not only inadequate medical care, but also use of excessive force, unreasonable seizure, unconstitutional policies and training, negligence and battery.

See: Perry Belden v. County of San Bernardino, Case No. 5:19-cv-00900-RGK-KK, (C.D. Cal. 2020). 

 

Related legal case

Perry Belden v. County of San Bernardino