Inmate’s Parents Sue Los Angeles County for Wrongful Death Inside Jail

On the morning of Saturday, November 8, 2014, a Los Angeles Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF) inmate named Unique Moore complained that she couldn’t breathe. She subsequently suffered a fatal asthma attack. Moores’ parents Elaine Bridges and Jimmie Lee Moore filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and various CRDF officials for negligence and wrongful death.jail-1211438

The 37-year-old Moore had a history of diabetes, asthma, and mental illness. Moore was arrested three weeks before her death for a probation violation. When she was admitted to the Lynwood facility, she told officials that she had severe asthma and that her asthma attacks could be fatal without adequate aid. While incarcerated, Moore was prescribed a number of medications for her mental illness, including Seroquel, which the FDA found in 2011 posed dangers of sudden cardiac death.

According to the lawsuit, Unique began to feel an asthma attack at around 6 am on November 8. Struggling to breathe, she called for her cellmate to tell the guard that she needed an inhaler. LA County jail prohibits inmates to keep inhalers in their cells for fear that the plastic devices could be repurposed as weapons.

Moore’s cellmate told the plaintiffs’ attorney that Moore next complained of feeling hot. She asked her cellmate to fan her. The cellmate pressed the emergency call button and began shouting for a guard or deputy. Nearby female inmates joined in the shouts. Still, no help arrived. Eventually, Moore collapsed. When a deputy finally arrived, Moore was unconscious.

An inmate housed in the module next to Moore’s stated that the slow response was not unusual. She said that the deputies often ignored inmates. She further stated that the sounds calling for help that morning were loud enough to wake her and those around her, even though her cell was not even near Moore’s.

By the time the paramedics arrived at 6:38 am, Moore was in cardiac arrest. She was given CPR and Epinephrine. A plastic tube was inserted down her throat to deliver additional oxygen. Moore was taken in an ambulance to the hospital, where at 7:41 am she was pronounced dead.

LA County Sheriff Department officials denied for close to a year that the death had occurred. And Homicide Bureaus Detective Lt. David Dolson disputed the claim that there was any negligence or institutional failure in response to Moore’s fatal attack. Dolon wrote in a statement that his department’s investigation did not reveal any delay in providing the inhaler. Likewise, LASD homicide detective Jeff Cochran indicated that as soon as the jail deputy learned of the asthma attack, he sped to retrieve the inhaler and call for the paramedics. The Moore family attorney sees things differently. He stated that Moore clearly died from her severe asthmatic condition after deputies failed to respond to the emergency in a timely manner.

The initial autopsy report ascribed Moore’s death to asthma, also citing contributing factors such as diabetes, hypertension, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and a history of drug use. The final autopsy report, however, concluded that the cause of death was solely asthma, stressing that there were no drugs in Moore’s system at the time.

Unfortunately, Moore’s story is common among the thousands of mentally ill California residents who cycle in and out of LA County jails. When Moore was arrested in October 2014, she was living on Skid Row and looking for drugs. Close to 95% of the approximately 4,000 mentally ill inmates incarcerated in LA County jails suffer from substance-abuse problems. Over 80% are homeless.

When Moore returned to CRCF in 2014, the LA Sheriff’s Department was recovering several scandals involving corruption and mistreatment of mentally ill inmates. More than 20 department members had been indicted federally, many for brutality charges. Earlier that year, the ACLU of Southern California filed a class action alleging abuse in jails, resulting in a landmark settlement mandating overseers. However, most of the attention on the neglect inside California jails has focused on men’s jails. But this past August, the reform group Dignity and Power Now (DPN), working with UCLA Law School, issued a report alleging a pattern of abuse toward women of color with mental illness, like Unique Moore.

The personal injury lawyers at the Neumann Law Group represent victims of accidents throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.

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California Appeals Court Affirms Ruling for Defendants in Suicide Alleged as Wrongful Death, California Injury Lawyer Blog, March 3, 2016.

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