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$1 Million Settlement Reached in Suicide of Mentally Ill Detainee at San Diego Jail

by Keith Sanders


People incarcerated at the San Diego County Jail have been suffering through a raging public health crisis. Unfortunately, this crisis has been as lethal or more so than COVID-19. Since 2006, over 200 people have died in custody at the California jail from abuse, neglect, and suicide, resulting in settlements paid out at the taxpayers’ expense totaling more than $15 million. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.44.]

Four people died while in custody of the county Sheriff’s Department in just six weeks between February 7 and March 18, 2019, including Joseph Castiglione, Michael Wilson, Derek King and Ivan Ortiz. [See: PLN, Jan. 2020, p.38.]

Ortiz, the last of the four to die, committed suicide by suffocating on a plastic baggie he hid under a blanket after he was served food in it. On May 7, 2021, the 26-year-old prisoner’s mother, Maria Palacios, successfully petitioned the federal court for the Southern District of California to dismiss a wrongful death suit she filed after agreeing to accept $1 million to settle her claims. See: Palacios v. Cty. of San Diego, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88029 (S.D. Cal.).

The suit alleged that Ortiz’s death resulted from an endemic lack of mental health care at the jail, which had also allowed multiple previous detainee deaths. When Ortiz, who suffered from schizophrenia, was detained on assault charges in March 2019, he informed jail guards that “voices” were telling him to kill himself. He was subsequently moved to a cell in the psychiatric wing of the jail, where he tried to strangle himself with a towel. He was then moved to an observation cell where, according to jail policy, he was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes and monitored via camera.

Palacios’ lawsuit claimed that Ortiz was not checked for at least 45 minutes. By that time, it was too late. The medical examiner reported that Ortiz died from brain trauma caused by a lack of oxygen after he suffocated himself.

“We consistently provide training to our staff, monitor best practices, and look for ways to improve the services we provide, both throughout the community and inside our facilities,” insisted Lt. Amber Braggs, the Sheriff’s Department spokesperson.

She also noted the department works “constantly to protect people incarcerated in county jails.” Yet deaths continue to mount. An investigative report by Disability Rights California, a nonprofit advocacy group, found substantive problems with how the Sheriff’s Department treated suicidal prisoners.

“[T]here remain many aspects of the system’s treatment of people at risk of suicide that require urgent action,” the report concluded.

Palacios’ attorney, Brody McBride, said Ortiz’s death was “totally and completely preventable,” but it happened anyway because the Sheriff’s Department could not be “bothered to follow their own policies.”

Under the settlement agreement, Palacios agreed to bear her litigation costs, including fees for her attorneys, McBride of Singleton Law Firm, APC, and Adam Hepburn of Hepburn, Hernandez, and Jung. See: Palacios v. Cty. of San Diego, USDC (S.D. Cal.), Case No. 20-cv-00450. 


Additional source: San Diego Union Tribune

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Related legal case

Palacios v. County. of San Diego