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Parents Can Sue County for Jailed Son’s Death

SAN JOSE (CN) - Parents of a diabetic man who died in jail can pursue their lawsuit claiming that Monterey County officials turned a blind eye to the jail's inadequate health care, a federal judge ruled.

Guadalupe Resendiz and Regulo Martinez sued Monterey County, former Sheriff Scott Miller and California Forensic Medical Group on behalf of their deceased son, Artemio Martinez Resendiz.

Resendiz, 42, died on Nov. 12, 2013, in the intensive care unit at Natividad Medical Center after going into cardiac arrest four times. Resendiz was awaiting sentencing after pleading no contest to lewd and lascivious acts with a child younger than 14 and attempted sexual battery.

His parents say Monterey County Jail was aware he suffered from diabetes, but jail officials allowed his condition to be poorly managed and unregulated throughout his incarceration.

Resendiz was treated at the jail infirmary on Nov. 9, 2013 for flulike symptoms and was found to be hypoglycemic and vomiting bile, his parents say.

Early the next day, he was found "barely responsive" in his cell, but jail officials did not take him to the hospital until later that morning, when a nurse found he was "unable to stand without assistance, incontinent of bladder, lethargic, jaundiced, very weak, and with a lowered level of consciousness," according to the complaint.

After being taken to Natividad Medical Center, Resendiz went into cardiac arrest four times, was put on a respirator and never regained consciousness. His parents blame the county for not recognizing Resendiz's medical needs and intervening before he died.

They cite a November 2013 Monterey County Jail Health Care Assessment that found many inadequacies in health care at the jail, including low staffing levels and failure to properly treat inmates suffering from chronic diabetes.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh on Friday rejected the county's motion to dismiss claims of deliberate indifference to Resendiz's serious medical condition.

The parents say Sheriff Miller must be held responsible for their son's death because he knew that overcrowding at the jail resulted in inadequate health care for inmates, that nurses at the jail's infirmary did not consistently consult a physician when dealing with an inmate's medical emergency, and that the jail's health care services were not up to par for inmates with diabetes. And they claim that Miller did nothing to improve conditions at the jail.

"(T)hese allegations of Sheriff Miller's acquiescence in the deficient policies at the Monterey County Jail are sufficient to allege a cause of action against Sheriff Miller in his individual capacity for deliberate indifference," Koh found.

Because the parents allege the indifference was committed by the sheriff, who was the final policymaking authority for the jail, they have sufficiently alleged the same cause of action against the county, the judge said.

However, the county is not liable for the parents' claim for failure to summon medical care. At the time that the parents say jail janitors should have summoned medical care, Resendiz was receiving care in the jail infirmary, Koh said.

California case law does not provide that any prison employee - let alone a janitor - has an obligation to ensure that a prisoner receive appropriate care once the prisoner is receiving medical care, Koh said, dismissing that claim with prejudice.

Susan Blitch, Senior Deputy Counsel for Monterey County, pointed out that Friday's ruling was only a preliminary assessment as to whether the complaint was sufficiently pled.

"The court's ruling does not assess the merits of plaintiffs' case. We believe that the plaintiffs' complaint is meritless and the county looks forward to vigorously defending this action," Blitch said.

This is not the first time Monterey County has come under fire for the conditions at its jail. Earlier this year the county settled a 2013 class action from inmates who claimed the jail was unconstitutionally unsafe, overcrowded and understaffed.

Under the settlement , approved by U.S. District Judge Paul Grewal in August, the jail must develop and implement plans to reform policies, procedures, and practices by which it provides security, medical care, mental health and disability accommodations to prisoners.

Madera County and California Forensic Medical Group must pay $4.8 million in attorney fees and up to $250,000 annually on fees associated with implementing necessary improvements.

"We have been improving conditions at the jail since before the lawsuit was originally filed and this settlement provides a great opportunity to build on those improvements through collaboration rather than litigation," current Sheriff Steve Bernal said. "The settlement clears the way for us to complete our jail modernization work."

Alan Schlosser of the ACLU, one of the attorneys for inmates in the class action, said they are "very hopeful that the changes long underway in Monterey will have immediate and lasting benefits for the public, as well as for our clients."

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