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San Diego County Pays $3.488 Million After Jail Detainee Dies in Cell Extraction

by Chuck Sharman

In October 2022, PLN successfully concluded a months-long effort to obtain a copy of an agreement by San Diego County to pay nearly $3.5 million to settle its part of a lawsuit filed by the family of Paul Silva, a mentally ill detainee who died after a brutal cell extraction at the county’s Central Jail in downtown San Diego in 2018.

Silva’s mother, Leslie Allen, phoned the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) on February 20, 2018, requesting help from its Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) for her son, after the 39-year-old stopped taking his schizophrenia medication and lapsed into a psychotic episode. Advising them of his condition and stressing that he was not high on drugs or alcohol, she asked them to invoke California Welfare and Institutions Code § 5150 to involuntarily take Silva to a psychiatric hospital.

But no one from PERT showed up. Instead, SDPD cops came and arrested Silva on suspicion of methamphetamine use — despite his mother’s continued protestations. Worse, when he got to the jail, Silva was left “in a cold concrete [holding] cell in February weather” with “no shower, no toilet paper, no soap, no clean clothes, and no bed,” according to the complaint his parents later filed. Guards who themselves wore coats against the chilly weather allegedly gave him nothing with which he might have fashioned a bed on the floor.

For the next 36 hours, he paced the floor continuously, subjected to constant illumination and noise. He was diabetic, but he did not eat. “No one called for medical or psychiatric help,” the complaint continued. “No one allowed [him] to use the telephone,” and “[t]he emergency button in [his] cell was broken.”

At last, guards watching his erratic behavior determined he was suffering “excited delirium” and decided to pepper-spray him. A tactical team of guards was then called, who shot Silva with “water filled ‘pepper’ balls” and entered the cell. One then used a Taser on him at least four times while the other six “held him down with a body shield and pressed down on his torso,” the complaint claimed. After Silva passed out, he was taken to a hospital, where he lingered in a coma until he died a month later after suffering “serious and permanent brain damage, neurological injuries, kidney failure, a collapsed lung, and other life-threatening injuries.”

As his mother had promised, an autopsy revealed no “alcohol, amphetamines, opiates, methadone, barbiturates or cocaine” in his system. The Medical Examiner ruled his death a homicide. Nevertheless, the District Attorney’s Office refused to file charges against any of the guards involved.

Aided by attorneys from Iredale & Yoo and Frantz Law Group, APLC, Silva’s parents filed suit on behalf of his estate in federal court for the Southern District of California against the city of San Diego as well as the county, Sheriff William Gore, Sheriff’s Department Medical Administrator Barbara Lee, along with numerous other officials, guards, medical providers and their personnel. The complaint’s 17 counts included alleged violations of Silva’s civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq., as well as state-law claims.

Negligence and wrongful death claims against the county defendants under state law were dismissed on November 25, 2020, but all other claims were sustained. See: Est. of Silva v. City of San Diego, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 221679 (S.D. Cal.).

That was enough to get the county to the settlement table, agreeing on March 8, 2021, to pay $3,488,000 to resolve its share of the claims, as well as those against its medical providers. Of that amount, $698,000 was earmarked for attorneys’ fees and costs, with the remaining $2,790,000 allocated to Allen and Silva’s father, Manuel.

The case remains pending against the City of San Diego, and PLN will report developments as they are available. See: Est. of Silva v. City of San Diego, USDC (S.D. Ca.), Case No. 3:18-cv-02282. 

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Related legal cases

Est. of Silva v. City of San Diego

Est. of Silva v. City of San Diego