Claims Over Inmate’s Suicide Headed to Trial

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge whittled down a case claiming Monterey County refused to help a mentally ill man who later fatally stabbed a taxi driver and then hanged himself in jail.
     Silvia Guersenzvaig sued Monterey County, several local and county law enforcement officers and two hospitals over their involvement in the death of her 20-year-old son, Joshua Claypole.
     Claypole appeared at the Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula in May 2013 asking for help, having been a patient at the hospital before. He had just been released from the county jail in Redwood City after his car was impounded because he was suspected of driving under the influence.
     The hospital staff called the police and ordered Claypole to leave, and several hours later Claypole fatally stabbed a taxi driver.
     While in the custody of the Seaside and Monterey police departments – and later the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department – Claypole exhibited signs of mental illness and suicidal ideation, including comments about how he wanted to die by lethal injection and have his body cremated.
     But the officers never evaluated Claypole for mental illness and although they briefly placed him on suicide watch, Claypole was soon returned to the jail’s general population. He was found hours later, hanging in his cell from a noose made of torn bed sheets.
     His mother sued for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, medical malpractice and wrongful death.
     In a ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman denied most of the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment on the claims, but granted a few.
     For instance, she found for defendant Erika Kaye – a sergeant at the Monterey County sheriff’s office – on the deliberate indifference, wrongful death and negligent supervision claims, finding that there was no evidence presented to show that Kaye’s response to Claypole’s medical need was unconstitutionally inadequate.
     Most of the other claims against the county defendants, however, Freeman let stand.
     As for the case’s medical defendants – California Forensic Medical Group and Dr. Taylor Fithian – Freeman found there was a triable issue of fact as to whether their medical policies were unconstitutionally inadequate.
     The policies in question include the medical group’s policy of sending inmates with mental illness to certain pods upon release from suicide watch, according to the ruling.
     Freeman denied all cross-motions for summary judgment against the medical defendants except for the claim of “failure to summon medical care,” on which she found for the defendants.
     The case will proceed in Federal Court.
     Neither side’s lead counsel immediately responded to emails requesting comment on Wednesday afternoon.

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