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Orange County Pays $299K to Settle Claim that Deputy Forbade Nurse to Treat Prisoner

by Douglas Ankney

On August 13, 2019, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a $299,000 settlement in a suit brought by a jail nurse who alleged a deputy refused to allow her to treat a prisoner.

In August 2016, Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) Jennifer Westfield was passing out medications at the Orange County Central Men’s Jail. According to her complaint, she noticed prisoner Andrew Nguyen lying on the shower floor, pale, slumped over, fully clothed and soaking wet, with the shower’s water running down his face. Westfield asked Deputy Flynn if she should check on Nguyen. Flynn replied, “No, he’s fine. If he doesn’t come down then that is an automatic refusal.”

Westfield advised Flynn that Nguyen was detoxing, and it was necessary for her to render medical assistance. Flynn responded, “He’s fine, everyone that detoxes looks like that. I am going to cosign a refusal because he is refusing.” Westfield observed Nguyen trying to stand by using the shower walls for assistance, but he could not lift himself.

Westfield went to triage to alert staff members that Nguyen needed medical care. Registered Nurses James Trimmer and Celena Lopez then proceeded to the unit to assess his condition.

At the guard station, Flynn told them, “Well, the LVN is lying because there’s nobody down in the shower. He’s back in his cell.” Trimmer and Lopez went to the cell and found Nguyen lethargic and soaked from head to toe. He was moved to the medical unit and later transported to a hospital.

Westfield called Flynn to inform him of Nguyen’s condition, to which he replied, “unless you’re an African Wizard, you can’t tell me you knew he was in bad shape, and you better not tell anyone he was down in the shower or there will be repercussions.” Westfield, who is African American, understood his comment to be both threatening and racially biased.

The following day, Flynn confronted her and again threatened that “there will be repercussions if you keep telling people you found the guy in the shower.” Fearing for her safety, Westfield filed complaints and requested a transfer. Her request was denied, and her supervisor told her she was “making a big deal” about the threats.

Westfield resigned because the threat to her safety was paramount in that the deputies were the sole providers of security for medical staff while they were among the jail’s population. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.28].

When she filed suit against Orange County, her complaint alleged ten causes of action, including violation of the California Whistleblower’s Retaliation Act. Westfield was represented by attorney Yana G. Henriks with McMurray Henriks, LLP. See: Westfield v. County of Orange, Orange Co. Superior Court (CA), Case No. 30-2017-00952753 (2019). 

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Related legal case

Westfield v. County of Orange