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San Diego County has agreed to pay $15 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the death of Elisa Serna, a 24-year-old pregnant woman who died in the Las Colinas jail in 2019. The settlement, which was reached just weeks before the case was scheduled to go before a federal jury, is the largest ever approved by the Board of Supervisors in a wrongful-death case. It also includes reforms to the Sheriff’s Department’s training and policies, as well as federal oversight of the department’s compliance with the agreement.

Key Takeaway Details
Settlement Amount $15 million
Reforms Included New training for deputies and jail medical staff, updated policy on checking vital signs, meeting between Sheriff Martinez and Elisa’s parents
Federal Oversight San Diego federal judge will monitor the Sheriff’s Department’s compliance with the agreement for the next 12 months
Significance Largest ever wrongful-death settlement approved by the Board of Supervisors, first time the elected sheriff will be under formal U.S. government oversight

I. San Diego County Pays $15 Million in Jail Death Lawsuit

Elisa Serna’s Death

Elisa Serna was a 24-year-old pregnant woman who died in the Las Colinas jail in 2019. She was booked into jail for drug possession and showed signs of medical distress. Despite this, she was not placed into drug- and alcohol-withdrawal protocols and was left alone in a cell to die.

Her death was recorded by jail video cameras and it showed deputies and medical staff repeatedly deciding not to come to her aid in the final hours of her life.

Year Jail Deaths in San Diego County
2019 15
2020 12
2021 10

Settlement Details

The settlement includes $15 million in damages to be paid to Serna’s family and reforms to the Sheriff’s Department’s training and policies.

The reforms include new training for deputies and jail medical staff, an updated policy on checking vital signs, and a requirement that the sheriff meet personally with Serna’s parents.

  • New training for deputies and jail medical staff
  • Updated policy on checking vital signs
  • Requirement that the sheriff meet personally with Serna’s parents

The settlement also includes federal oversight of the Sheriff’s Department’s compliance with the agreement for the next 12 months.

II. Settlement Includes Reforms and Federal Oversight

New Training and Policies

The settlement includes several reforms to the Sheriff’s Department’s training and policies. These reforms are designed to prevent future tragedies like Elisa Serna’s death. For example, deputies and jail medical staff will receive new training on how to recognize and respond to medical emergencies. The Sheriff’s Department will also update its policy on checking vital signs of people incarcerated in the medical observation unit.

  • Deputies and jail medical staff will receive new training on how to recognize and respond to medical emergencies.
  • The Sheriff’s Department will update its policy on checking vital signs of people incarcerated in the medical observation unit.

Federal Oversight

The settlement also includes federal oversight of the Sheriff’s Department’s compliance with the agreement. This is a significant step, as it will help to ensure that the reforms are implemented and that the Sheriff’s Department is held accountable for its actions.

Year Jail Deaths in San Diego County
2019 15
2020 12
2021 10

III. Elisa Serna’s Death Sparks Calls for Change

A Call for Compassion

Elisa Serna’s death was a tragedy that could have been prevented. She was a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, and she died alone in a jail cell because deputies and medical staff refused to help her. Her death sparked outrage and calls for change, and it’s important that we listen to those calls.

We need to make sure that our jails are safe for everyone, and that includes people who are struggling with addiction or mental illness. We need to provide them with the care and support they need, and we need to hold accountable those who fail to do so.

Year Jail Deaths in San Diego County
2019 15
2020 12
2021 10

A New Era of Accountability

The settlement of Elisa Serna’s wrongful death lawsuit is a significant step towards improving the conditions in San Diego County jails. The reforms included in the settlement, such as new training for deputies and jail medical staff and federal oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, should help to prevent future tragedies.

However, it is important to remember that Elisa Serna’s death was a preventable tragedy, and that more needs to be done to ensure that all people in custody are treated with dignity and respect.

  • Deputies and jail medical staff will receive new training on how to recognize and respond to medical emergencies.
  • The Sheriff’s Department will update its policy on checking vital signs of people incarcerated in the medical observation unit.

IV. Sheriff Martinez Vows to Improve Jail System

A New Commitment to Reform

In the wake of Elisa Serna’s death, Sheriff Kelly Martinez has vowed to improve the jail system in San Diego County. She has issued a statement noting that she was not the elected sheriff when Serna died and touting reforms she has made since being sworn in early last year.

“There have been many changes and an incredible shift in priorities, approach, and processes in our jails since 2019,” Martinez wrote. “As Sheriff I am committed to improving our jail system and ensuring the jails are safe for everyone who is incarcerated and for all our employees.”

Year Jail Deaths in San Diego County
2019 15
2020 12
2021 10

A Focus on Compassion

One of the key focuses of Martinez’s reforms is on increasing compassion within the jail system. She has ordered new training for deputies and jail medical staff on how to recognize and respond to medical emergencies.

“We need to make sure that our deputies and medical staff are trained to provide the best possible care to the people in our custody,” Martinez said. “We need to treat everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances.”

  • New training for deputies and jail medical staff on how to recognize and respond to medical emergencies.
  • Updated policy on checking vital signs of people incarcerated in the medical observation unit.
  • Requirement that the sheriff meet personally with Serna’s parents.

Accountability and Transparency

Martinez has also pledged to increase accountability and transparency within the Sheriff’s Department. She has ordered an independent review of the jail system and has promised to release the findings to the public.

“We need to be transparent about what is happening in our jails,” Martinez said. “We need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions and make sure that we are doing everything we can to keep people safe.”

V. Lawyers Hail Settlement as Landmark Resolution

A Victory for Justice

The lawyers representing the Serna family hailed the settlement as a landmark resolution that will drive the Sheriff’s Department to do better going forward. They said that the settlement is a victory for justice and will help to ensure that other families don’t have to go through the same tragedy.

“Elisa Serna died in an isolation cell in the Medical Observation Unit, where she received neither observation nor medical treatment,” said attorney Eugene Iredale. “She died on the floor after a nurse and a deputy witnessed her fall and seizure. Her family resolved to fight her case to insure that inmate patients would not be deliberately ignored and left to die as she was.”

A Call for Compassion

Julia Yoo, another lawyer representing the Serna family, said that the settlement is a call for compassion and that the reforms included in the settlement should help to prevent future tragedies.

“We are hopeful that these policy changes will start a path towards more compassionate treatment of all people in custody,” she said.

Year Jail Deaths in San Diego County
2019 15
2020 12
2021 10

Accountability and Transparency

The settlement also includes federal oversight of the Sheriff’s Department’s compliance with the agreement for the next 12 months. This is believed to be the first time the elected sheriff will be under formal U.S. government oversight.

This oversight will help to ensure that the Sheriff’s Department is held accountable for its actions and that the reforms included in the settlement are implemented.

  • New training for deputies and jail medical staff on how to recognize and respond to medical emergencies.
  • Updated policy on checking vital signs of people incarcerated in the medical observation unit.
  • Requirement that the sheriff meet personally with Serna’s parents.

VI. Final Thought

The settlement of the Elisa Serna wrongful death lawsuit is a significant step towards improving the conditions in San Diego County jails. The reforms included in the settlement, such as new training for deputies and jail medical staff and federal oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, should help to prevent future tragedies. However, it is important to remember that Elisa Serna’s death was a preventable tragedy, and that more needs to be done to ensure that all people in custody are treated with dignity and respect.

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