Tue, 05 Dec 2023

SAN DIEGO (CN) - The mother of a man suffering from mental health issues who died of water intoxication while in pretrial detention in a San Diego County jail may continue to pursue her lawsuit against the county after a federal judge refused to dismiss the case Monday.

According to his mother's complaint, Lester Daniel Marroquin struggled for years with hallucinations and other mental health issues that lead him to be taken into custody repeatedly, where he would be stabilized with medications, then released without any proper help or resources to maintain his health.

During these cycles of incarceration, plaintiff Alba Marroquin de Portillo was frequently in contact with her son. According to her complaint, they were a "constant source of healing and comfort to one another."  

In December 2020 Marroquin wound up back in jail, where he was placed in a safety cell - a cell that's illuminated at all times, monitored by a deputies watching from a camera, and without furniture or a toilet - after an incident in which he was both shot with a taser by a deputy and then attempted to hurt himself. 

Marroquin cycled in and out of administrative segregation and safety cells for months, as his mental health seemed to worsen. He attempted to end his own life twice in April 2021 and experienced hallucinations that made him believe he could talk to his mother by through the toilet in his cell and uncontrollably drink water from the toilet bowl. His mother claims that these hallucinations got worse as jail staff cut off contact between her and her son.    

Earlier in 2021, Marroquin was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation, but his mother claims that jail deputies continually failed to get him to these court ordered evaluations. 

On May 30, 2021, Marroquin was again transferred to an administrative segregation cell, where he began drinking water from the cell's toilet and died from water intoxication. 

Marroquin de Portillo sued the county for two counts of violating her son's 14th Amendment right - for deliberate indifference to his medical needs, and for interference with familial relations - wrongful death, and a Monell claim.

San Diego County argued it was immune from the wrongful death claim, and that the complaint was devoid of any allegations that county employees observed something in Marroquin's behavior that would have required them to seek immediate medical care for him.  

U.S. District Judge William Hayes, a George W. Bush appointee, didn't buy that argument.

"Here, the complaint alleges that jail staff repeatedly discovered decedent engaging in self-harming behaviors, including dunking his head in the toilet and attempting to strangle himself. It further alleges that jail staff knew of decedent's worsening mental condition, yet failed to produce decedent for any of his court-ordered psychiatric examinations. These allegations, when accepted as true, are sufficient to allege that jail staff knew or should have known that decedent was in need of immediate medical care, and failed to summon such care," Hayes wrote in his order

The county also argued that the court improperly suspended the statute of limitations for Marroquin's mother to file her complaint when it dismissed the case without prejudice due to the immense grief she was experiencing and a severe case of pneumonia that required her to be hospitalized. After recovering, Marroquin de Portillo immediately resumed the case.

Hayes ruled that "determination of the statute of limitations issue is not appropriate at this stage of the proceedings." 

Attorneys for both Marroquin and San Diego County did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Last year, the California State Auditor released a report that found 185 people died in San Diego County jails from 2006 to 2020, one of the highest rates of inmate deaths in the state.

Thirty-two people have died in San Diego County jails since the audit was released. 

The report found that the jails failed to prevent and respond to the deaths of prisoners and that the sheriff's department did not follow up with prisoners who needed medical and mental health services.  

The report suggested the sheriff's department should have stronger oversight and better standards for correctional care.

Source: Courthouse News Service

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