Family of inmate who committed suicide files federal lawsuit against Sheriff’s Department

The family of a man who died by suicide in San Diego’s Central Jail filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday, arguing that jail staff ignored clear signs that the 35-year-old would take his own life if left unmonitored.

On May 30, 2021, Lester Daniel Marroquin, “Danny,” as his family called him, ingested a lethal amount of water while alone in an administrative segregation cell, the Sheriff’s Department’s term for solitary confinement.

“Mr. Marroquin should have been in a safety cell on May 30, 2021, ”the lawsuit says. “At a minimum, he should have been in Enhanced Observation Housing” – cells for people at risk of suicide – “with safety checks conducted at least every fifteen minutes.”

According to the lawsuit and Marroquin’s autopsy report, which was released last December, during the nearly six months he was in the Central Jail, he attempted suicide multiple times: he tried to use a Taser barb to slit his throat, submersed his head in a cell toilet, repeatedly hit his head against a cell wall and tried to strangle himself with a noose he had made from a shirt.

At the time of his death, Marroquin was facing assault and battery charges. Court records show his defense attorney had raised questions about whether he was mentally competent to stand trial, but there had not yet been a hearing on the matter.

“At no time during his incarceration by the county was Mr. Marroquin ever taken to a hospital for inpatient psychiatric treatment, ”the lawsuit says. “To the contrary, jail staff repeatedly failed to produce Mr. Marroquin for court-ordered psychiatric evaluations and court dates. “

A Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman said pending litigation prevented the department from commenting.

Marroquin was one of 18 people to die in San Diego County jail custody in 2021, a record high for a jail system that a recent state audit found to be the deadliest among California’s largest counties.

That audit, released in early February, urged state lawmakers to intervene to force the Sheriff’s Department to change how its jails are run.

Marroquin’s death is highlighted in a class-action lawsuit filed a week after the audit’s release. In a sworn declaration that accompanies the lawsuit, mental health clinician Jennifer Alonso, who quit her position at the jail last month, described how Marroquin was moved from the Central Jail’s psychiatric observation unit and placed into administration segregation on her day off.

“No one informed me about custody staff moving Mr. Marroquin back into (administrative segregation) housing where he had previously decompensated, and I was not consulted about whether it was clinically safe for him to be returned to Ad-Seg following his removal from psychiatric observation, “Alonso wrote.

That same day, Mr. Marroquin banged his head several times, placed his head in the toilet of his Ad-Seg cell, and finally died of acute water intoxication, ”Alonso wrote. “I still cry when I think about what happened to Mr. Marroquin; he should not have died. “

Marroquin was last seen alive just after 3 pm on May 20 during a routine check, the autopsy report says. An hour later, he was found on the floor of his cell with his head near the toilet. Attempts by deputies and paramedics to revive him were futile and he was pronounced dead at 4:40 pm

The medical examiner determined that Marroquin died from acute water intoxication, meaning he had consumed enough water to cause the sodium in his blood to drop to a lethal level.

The lawsuit cites reports by the oversight nonprofit Disability Rights California and Lindsay Hayes, a consultant hired by the Sheriff’s Department in 2018 to review its suicide prevention policies, and argues recommendations by both entities have not been fully implemented.

Disability Rights California found “significant deficiencies in the county’s suicide prevention practices.”

Hayes, the lawsuit states, found that “various suicide prevention policies provide limited guidance regarding the observation of suicidal inmates,” and that “custody personnel are required to provide direct visual observation of suicidal inmates” at least twice in every thirty (30) minutes. period. ‘”

Marroquin was unmonitored for at least an hour, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit notes that Marroquin was particularly close to his mother, who was “a constant source of healing and comfort to her son,” but jailers restricted Marroquin’s ability to maintain contact with her.

“This exacerbated Mr. Marroquin’s condition, as his mother, was one of the few that could ease his mind. “

Brody McBride, one of the attorneys representing Marroquin’s family, described his suicide as “completely preventable.”

“At numerous points, jail staff could have taken steps to help Danny,” he said. “Instead, they actually made matters worse by preventing him from getting the mental health treatment he so badly needed and ultimately by placing him in a cell under conditions where his suicide was all but guaranteed.”

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