Saturday, October 15, 2016
$1M settlement reached in Santa Cruz County jail death
Blog note: this article references a 2013-14 grand jury report on deaths in the county jail.
SANTA CRUZ >> Santa Cruz County and its corrections medical provider paid $1 million to settle a federal suit filed by survivors of an inmate who committed suicide at the County Jail three years ago.
Amanda Sloan, 30, was found in her cell July 27, 2013, after spending eight months and four days at the County Jail, according to a Santa Cruz Grand Jury report issued May 2014. The report addressed five deaths at the jail from August 2012 to July 2013. Sloan’s was the last of those five deaths studied in the report. Since that time, measures have been taken to “improve inmate safety,” according to the grand jury report.
Jail officials identified improvements before the grand jury report published, Chief Deputy Jeff Marsh said.
“We’ve made significant changes in our safety and security checks, who does the checks and a lot of the processes for how we do them,” he said.
The settlement, reached Oct. 4, came after changes were made at the jail on an ongoing basis, he said.
Those changes include at least hourly digitally recorded checks and 15-minute checks for anyone perceived to be suicidal.
After Sloan was found in her cell, the officer involved in her monitoring resigned, Marsh said. About 350 people are housed at the County Jail. Now, the jail also has cameras covering more areas than monitored when Sloan died. Many of the changes stemmed from Sloan’s death, Marsh said. Others strive to exceed minimum requirements imposed by Title 15, which is the state law that governs corrections.
Sloan’s family filed suit June 30, 2015, claiming her 14th Amendment rights, which protect against state infringements of civil rights to life, liberty or property without due process of law.
The suit claimed Sloan’s civil rights were violated when she presented “volatile behavior” and suicidal tendencies weeks preceding her death, Santa Cruz attorney Diane Vaillancourt said.
Vaillancourt, and attorneys Jonathan Gettleman, Elizabeth Caballero and Eric Nelson represented the plaintiffs’ case.
The settlement awarded $975,000 from the county and $75,000 from the County Jail’s medical provider, Monterey-based California Forensic Medical Group, the largest private source of correctional health care services in California with contracts in 27 counties.
The settlement total includes $402,989 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees.
Court documents do not name the plaintiffs, who are minors.
Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin said the county’s portion is covered “primarily by insurance.”
Vaillancourt said she has researched similar cases and found few with settlements larger than this litigation.
Each of Sloan’s three children is promised payments from the settlement periodically before their 18th birthdays.
“Most of it, they’ll get when they’re adults,” Vaillancourt said. “It is paid out over time.”
The suit had one hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila in San Jose and a few settlement conferences, Vaillancourt said.
“This case was settled very, very early,” she said.
Sloan was booked into the County Jail in December 2012 on charges of assault with a firearm on a police officer, shooting at an inhabited dwelling, discharging a firearm from a vehicle and reckless driving while evading a peace officer, according to the grand jury report.
“A pretrial detainee, she was still innocent under the law,” Vaillancourt said.
Two weeks before her death, she learned from a visiting friend that “she was losing custody of her children,” according to the grand jury report.
Marsh said that the jail now has a team dedicated to suicide prevention though admits some suicides are difficult to see coming.
“Inmates can do it so many ways,” he said, noting that prevention is a central topic for the agency.
The coroner ruled Sloan’s death suicide by asphyxiation, according to the grand jury report.
Marsh said the Sheriff’s Office recently renewed its contract with California Forensic Medical Group.
“They are the right contractor,” he said. “We’re seeking the highest certification available. Not just what the law requires. It’s the gold standard.”
October 12, 2016
Santa Cruz Sentinel
By Michael Todd