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California Family Mourns Son Who Committed Suicide in Jail, Receives $1.65 Million Settlement

by Ed Lyon

At least three major federal lawsuits involving the jail in Monterey County, California had been filed prior to Erick DeAnda’s death at the facility on September 16, 2015, in an isolation cell in a unit designated for mentally ill prisoners.

DeAnda was 24 years old when he hanged himself at the jail. He had suffered from severe schizophrenia since childhood.

During an onset of psychosis in the course of an episode of acute schizophrenia, Erick killed his mother on August 25, 2015. He was taken into custody and booked into the Monterey County Jail (MCJ). After booking, he was housed in a single cell for a day, then moved to a safety cell on August 27 and placed on suicide watch.

The MCJ contracted with California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG), a for-profit health care provider that has since merged with Correct Care Solutions to become Wellpath. Three days after his arrival at the jail, despite his life-long history of severe mental illness, CFMG staff approved DeAnda to be placed in an isolation cell rather than a safety cell. On August 29, 2015, CFMG mental health specialist Mary Ann Rowe ordered DeAnda removed from suicide watch. Hourly visual checks by jailers were required to be made in isolation cells, with a log of the checks and by whom they were conducted.

Protracted litigation in the three lawsuits that predated DeAnda’s death had sought the removal of all potential hanging points in the jail’s cells. As of the date that DeAnda committed suicide, however, hanging points had only been removed in the safety cells.

Despite the circumstances of DeAnda’s arrest, there was extensive media coverage regarding his mental illness. That should have served to place MCJ and CFMG staff on notice of his suicidal ideations, yet he remained in an isolation cell instead of on suicide watch.

On September 26, 2015, DeAnda hanged himself; he was discovered by guards at 3:50 p.m. that day. The cell check logs showed hourly visual inspections, though a later investigation revealed that for at least four hours prior to his death, no visual checks were performed and the log entries had been falsified. Two other MCJ prisoners committed suicide in 2015 – Cervantes Huerta in February, and Sandra Lee Velain in March.

Recognizing that DeAnda was more than his mental illness, his family was distraught.

“I wish I could see Erick just one last time,” his sister stated. “I would give him a big hug and tell him that I know it wasn’t him and it wasn’t his fault. It was his illness.”

Attorney Denisse O. Gastélum, who represented the DeAnda family in a wrongful death lawsuit, said other family members shared the same sentiments. Following several years of litigation, the case settled in March 2019 with Monterey County agreeing to pay a $1,650,000 settlement. See: Estate of DeAnda v. Herr, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:17-cv-05320-SVK. 

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Related legal case

Estate of DeAnda v. Herr