Family of deceased OC inmate says he was denied medication in jail

Jessica De Nova Image
Friday, September 20, 2019
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Attorneys representing the family of a deceased Orange County inmate said the inmate's death could have been prevented with improved medical care.

ORANGE, Calif. (KABC) -- Attorneys representing the family of a deceased Orange County inmate said in a press conference Thursday the inmate's death could have been prevented with improved medical care.

Diana Ramirez still mourned the death of the father of her son, Jesus De Leon, more than a year-and-a-half after his passing.

"It still hurts. It has been a little over a year-and-a-half, and it hurts like it just happened yesterday," Ramirez said.

The 38-year-old was an inmate at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, serving six months for a probation violation.

Ramirez blamed jail medical staff for her fiance's death.

"We need justice for him because he's not here to speak on what happened," Ramirez said.

In a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Orange County, jail staff and Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, attorneys representing the deceased inmate's family said De Leon told jailers he was on Clonidine for his high blood pressure.

Attorney James Gutierrez said Thursday, the medical team at Theo Lacy didn't follow that treatment.

"He kept going back to the infirmary to tell them that he had headaches, and he had all these symptoms of high blood pressure, but they did nothing. They gave him Ibuprofen. In February, they initially started taking his blood pressure," Gutierrez said.

According to Gutierrez, those readings increased excessively each day until De Leon suffered a brain aneurism and brainstem stroke on Feb. 20, 2018.

"He fell face-first, down inside the jail and he was left there for about an hour before somebody found him," Gutierrez said.

The father of three was pronounced dead at the UC Irvine Medical Center one week later.

"It was preventable because they could have provided him with the appropriate medical care checking his blood pressure at the onset," Gutierrez said.

Attorney Herbert Hayden spoke of Orange County grand jury reports on inmate deaths in O.C.

"It's interesting that Orange County grand jury has issued two reports within the last two years highlighting the significant increase in preventable deaths here across the Orange County jail system," Hayden said.

One of those reports released this year titled "The Silent Killer, Hypertension in Orange County's Intake and Release Center," found from January 2016 through May 2018, of 28 custodial deaths, 15 had evidence of prior cardiovascular history.

An Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesperson told Eyewitness News the department does not comment on cases involving ongoing litigation, but forwarded the following June 4, 2019, statement from Sheriff Don Barnes on health care in the O.C. jail system that said in part:

"We disagree with the findings of the Grand Jury's report regarding in-custody deaths of inmates from cardiovascular-related issues and feel it does not accurately portray the level of healthcare provided to inmates in OC Jails.

While OCSD does not provide inmate medical care, we believe the Correctional Health Services staff from the OC Health Care Agency do a great job.

Intake and triage at the jail is not meant to diagnose and prescribe treatments. During the intake process, inmates are triaged by Correctional Health staff for issues that would restrict their ability to receive medical care at the jail if their needs are acute or exceed the services available.

Inmates are not coming to jail for medical treatment, they are coming because they broke the law."

Ramirez said the criminal justice system was still responsible for its inmates.

"Whatever the reason they're here for doesn't mean that they don't need to be taken care of medically," Ramirez said.

The individual defendants in this case filed a motion to dismiss. That matter was scheduled for a hearing Monday, after which the county was expected to file its own answer to the complaint.