Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, medical group sued for jail death
Blog note: this article references a recently released report by the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury. An article about the actual report is on this blog.
SANTA CRUZ -- The recent death of a 23-year-old Live Oak woman in Santa Cruz County Jail has prompted a civil lawsuit against leaders of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office and the California Forensic Medical Group that runs medical care at the jail.
Filed Friday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, the lawsuit alleges that jailers violated Krista DeLuca's civil rights to "appropriate and reasonable" medical care in jail. DeLuca died Sept. 29, 2015, after four days of nausea and vomiting related to opiate withdrawal, according to a Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury report released last week.
"It's really inexplicable," said Dana Scruggs, a Santa Cruz attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of DeLuca's 2-year-old daughter. "It's not something that should be happening in Santa Cruz County or in the United States," he said of drug withdrawal deaths in jail.
DeLuca's daughter is in the process of being adopted by her father's parents, who live near Hollister, Scruggs said.
The trouble started the night of Sept. 24, when DeLuca was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs, drug paraphernalia possession and five warrants that required court appearances, Santa Cruz County sheriff's Lt. Kelly Kent said at the time.
DeLuca spent about four days in jail with drug withdrawal symptoms including "vomiting, sweats, chills, headaches and general misery." She asked to go to a hospital, but was not taken there and instead told to drink Gatorade and practice deep breathing exercises, according to the grand jury report.
Nurses gave her a suppository and an injection to help hydrate her, according to the report. She died of acute aspiration pneumonia, dehydration and probable electrolyte imbalance due to frequent vomiting associated with opiate withdrawal, according to an autopsy.
Dana Scruggs, a Santa Cruz attorney, said DeLuca's death "absolutely" could have been prevented if she were taken to a hospital. Scruggs said the lawsuit was filed in federal court because it involves federal civil rights and because it expands the jury pool.
It seeks an unspecified sum to pay for DeLuca's funeral expenses, general damages for her daughter, punitive damages and attorney's fees. The suit names Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart, Undersheriff Jeremy Verinsky, Chief Deputy Jeff Marsh, Lt. Kelly Kent and California Forensic Medical Group. The medical group is a for-profit company based in Monterey.
Jason Hoppin, a spokesman for Santa Cruz County, declined to comment Monday because of the pending litigation. A call to California Forensic Medical Group Chief Operating Officer Elaine Hustedt was not returned immediately Monday.
Because the medical group is liable for up to $15,000 of inmates' medical care if they are transported to a hospital, Scruggs said the company has a disincentive to refer inmates to a hospital.
"Any time a corporation does something where they're endangering a human life to increase profitability, that institution is acting through a person. There's an institutional bias," said Scruggs.
The medical group's contract is due for renewal by the Santa Cruz County Supervisors in the coming months. Hart, the sheriff, said the county will delete the $15,000 liability from the new contract. The deletion also was one of the grand jury's recommendations.
Hart also said that the medical group will now need accreditation from the Institute for Medical Quality, a nonprofit group that spun off the California Medical Association. Accreditation was another recommendation of the grand jury.
June 14, 2016
San Jose Mercury News
By Stephen Baxter, Santa Cruz Sentinel