LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The family of a Los Angeles sheriff's deputy who died by suicide last month filed a precursor to a lawsuit against L.A. County and the sheriff's department, blaming mandatory overtime for his death.
Arturo Atilano-Valadez worked as a deputy for the county for more than 21 years, the last 12 years, the family says, stuck as a jail guard and forced to work excessive overtime hours. Attorney Brad Gage, who is representing the deputy's family, says Atilano-Valadez repeatedly tried to be transferred out of the jail, but the department denied his requests.
In addition to the stresses of working in the jail, the late deputy's wife says mandatory overtime took its toll on her husband as well.
She blames Sheriff Robert Luna.
"I told him in the hospital," Michele Atilano-Valadez. "He killed my husband, working him overtime, overtime, overtime, overtime, all the time walking like zombies everywhere."
Gage filed a wrongful death complaint against the county and the sheriff's department, seeking $20 million. He says the lack of deputies is a "life or death situation."
"Deputies are being forced to work overtime in an amount that is unsafe," Gage said at a Friday news conference. "Unsafe to them and unsafe to others."
Gage is also representing the family of slain Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer, who was gunned down in Palmdale earlier this year. Gage blames his death on excessive overtime hours, saying Clinkunbroomer was too tired to recognize clues about the shooter that could have saved his life.
Gage pointed to last month when four sheriff's deputies committed suicide on the same day, and says at least eight deputies have taken their lives this year alone.
"We have heard that perhaps as many as 50 have committed suicide this year, but the department has not shared the exact numbers," Gage asserted.
Eyewitness News reached out to the sheriff's department for comment on the Atilano-Valadez case, but the department's response only mentioned Clinkunbroomer's death.
It reads, "The senseless ambush murder of Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer was the epitome of evil and the Department continues to mourn his death. We lost a valued member of our Department family who was committed to serving our communities. The Sheriff's Department remains committed to securing a successful prosecution against the individual responsible for Ryan's murder. Our thoughts continue to remain with the entire Clinkunbroomer family."
If you are experiencing suicidal, substance use or other mental health crises, please call or text the new three-digit code at 988. You will reach a trained crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also go to 988lifeline.org.