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Jail Death Cases Pile Up|in San Diego County

SAN DIEGO (CN) — On the same day a federal judge refused to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit against the San Diego County Jail, another mother sued the county again, blaming its negligence and medical malpractice for the suicide of her son.

San Diego County has the highest suicide rate among California's large jail systems, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Five people killed themselves in San Diego County jails in 2013, six in 2014, seven in 2015, and three more had killed themselves by May this year.

By contrast, "Since 2014, San Bernardino had three jail suicides. Los Angeles and Santa Clara have had one each; and Orange and Sacramento counties have had none," San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Kelly Davis wrote in a Dec. 16, 2015 article on the suicide of Jason Nishimoto, who hanged himself at the Vista jail in September last year.

Nishimoto's mother, Rochelle Nishimoto, sued the county on Aug. 5 in Federal Court.

She says jailers knew her schizophrenic son was suicidal, as the 911 dispatcher sent sheriff's deputies to arrest him at his home on Sept. 24 last year after a suicide attempt. Even though they took Jason to a hospital for medical clearance before they jailed him, and even though she explicitly warned a jail nurse that her son had a history of suicide attempts, jailers put him in administrative segregation, not in a safety cell, not on suicide watch, and he hanged himself on his second night in jail.

He did this after going without his medication for three days, Rochelle Nishimoto says. In her conversation with the jail nurse, the mother says, "The nurse told Rochelle that she was unsure if they could get Jason's medicine because they were too expensive," but they would try to get him a psychiatric appointment on Sept. 27 — the day he hanged himself.

"The county is well aware of its inadequate policies and treatment of known suicidal inmates," Nishimoto says in the complaint. "The county currently faces over eight (8) active lawsuits stemming from identical allegations."

She says the county failed to follow its own protocols, partly because jails are not adequately staffed on weekends. "Jason's family knew he was troubled. They begged for help. They exhausted every resource available by informing all county officials that were involved with Jason's arrest and incarceration," Nishimoto says in the complaint.

"By withholding psychotropic drugs from a drug-dependent schizophrenic with active suicide ideations, VDF [Vista Detention Facility] staff were deliberately indifferent to Jason's serious medical condition and this withholding was a substantial factor in his eventual suicide."

Nishimoto's attorney Christopher Morris said in an interview that her son's death "is just the latest filing in a long line of jail death cases."

"His family has no idea why he was taken to jail and not the psychiatric hospital. Clearly the jail was ill-equipped to take care of him."

Morris also represents Ana Sandoval, whose husband Ronnie died on Feb. 23, 2014 in the San Diego Central Jail. U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez denied the county's motion to dismiss the Sandoval case on Aug. 5, the day Nishimoto filed her lawsuit.

Ronnie Paul Sandoval was arrested on Feb. 22, 2014 for possession of a controlled substance and violating his parole. A diabetic, he was "shaking" and "sweating profusely" as he was booked into jail, Judge Benitez wrote in his case summary, citing allegations in the complaint.

According to that complaint, jail staff did not provide him with medical care for eight hours, despite his obvious need for it; did not call an EMT for 10 minutes even after seeing him suffer a seizure; refused to call paramedics despite being ordered to do so by a sheriff's deputy; and the paramedics did not arrive until an hour after his seizure. He suffered respiratory arrest and died.

Benitez rejected the county's argument that Sandoval and her children made insufficient allegations because they did not name specific nurses; nor are the family's claims time-barred.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Jan Caldwell said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

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