SAN DIEGO (CN) — San Diego was hit with another wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday with grimly similar circumstances to another case making its way through federal court.
A family whose son suffered catastrophic injuries in jail, leading to a weeks-long coma before his death, claims that the county hasn’t learned how to properly detain inmates with mental illness.
Paul Silva died in March at 39, weeks after deputies at the San Diego Central Jail confronted him with a stun gun and pepper-spray. The family’s 49-page lawsuit says Silva was effectively pressed to death, suffering a collapsed lung and multiple contusions and puncture wounds.
Silva’s parents, Manuel Silva and Leslie Allen, brought their federal complaint against the city and county; Sheriff William Gore; Liberty Healthcare Corporation, the jail’s health care contractor; and the Community Research Foundation, which operates the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team.
They seek punitive damages on 15 causes of action, including wrongful death, deliberate indifference, excessive force, failure to train and supervise and other civil rights violations.
The Silvas’ case is similar to that of Rochelle Nishimoto, whose son killed himself in the jail despite her repeated attempts to get her son medication and monitoring.
Nishimoto sued the county in 2016. At the time, Courthouse News reported: “San Diego County ha(d) 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 (2016).”
Nishimoto’s case has been making its way through the Southern District of California, with a federal judge last month denying dismissing from the case a county jail nurse who had been advised of Jason’s medical conditions before his death.
The family of another man diagnosed with schizophrenia, Ruben Nunez, also sued the county in 2016, for not properly monitoring their son, who drank so much water in jail he drowned.
Paul Silva’s mother claims in her lawsuit that she contacted the San Diego Police Department’s Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, or PERT, on Feb. 20 to get help for her son, who was not yet in jail. But she says defendant sheriff’s Officer Andrew Murrow “interfered” with the PERT team, claiming her son “must have used narcotics,” and arrested him.
“Instead of allowing PERT members to assess Paul’s mental condition and take Paul to receive medical care, Murrow instead took him to the Central Jail for a crime Paul did not commit,” his parents say.
On Feb. 21, Paul Silva, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young adult, was “acting erratically, running in his cell, throwing himself to the ground and yelling incoherently. He was seen staring out the window with mouth wide open, holding his arms out pointing toward the window and walls, crawling and rolling on the floor,” his parents say.
In response, jailers called for a Tactical Team, who shot him with water balls, pepper-sprayed him, and Tasered him “for at least 22 seconds while six other members of the Tactical Team held him down with a body shield pressing on his torso,” according to the complaint. His parents say he received no medical treatment during the 36 hours he was in jail.
“Defendant Murrow’s decision to deviate from the city of San Diego’s own protocol as to the treatment of psychiatric patients was a substantial factor in causing Paul’s death,” the complaint states. “It is reasonably foreseeable that failure to notify the jail of Paul’s schizophrenia would lead to the lack of treatment.”
Unresponsive, Silva was sent to UCSD Hospital. He suffered brain damage and neurological injuries, kidney failure and other life-threatening injuries and was in a coma for weeks before his family allowed him to be removed from life support on March 28.
He tested negative for alcohol and drugs and his death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, with the cause of death listed as restraint, which caused his heart to stop, according to the lawsuit.
The Silva family claims there has been “systemic failure” in San Diego County jails’ health care for inmates, and that 60 prisoners died in its jails from 2007 to 2012, the highest rate among the state’s large jail systems.
“At the time of Paul Silva’s death, there had been a long-standing custom and practice of improper and inadequate investigations; cover-up of misconduct; and failure to discipline and train deputies and medical staff,” according to the complaint.
Silva’s parents also claim the county failed to use available state funding for mental health services, including more than $100 million from the Mental Health Services Act in 2017, plus an additional $42 million in reserves, before their son’s death.
A grand jury recommended in June 2016 that the county use a larger percentage of mental health dollars “in order to improve services to a larger number of seriously mentally ill and at-risk county residents,” according to the complaint.
And, his parents say, a Disability Rights California report this year on San Diego County jail suicides found inmates “do not receive an adequate individualized mental health treatment plan” in violation of state law.
The Silva family claims “this pattern of tragic death supports an inference that defendants are promoting and maintaining a culture of deliberate indifference to human life at the jail.”
They are represented by Julia Yoo, with Iredale and Yoo in San Diego, who could not be reached for comment after office hours Tuesday.