County settles to pay $2M to son of jail suicide inmate
Lake County Record-Bee, June 13, 2018
LAKE COUNTY >> The County of Lake has settled to pay $2 million to the only son of a Lake County Jail inmate who committed suicide in her cell in 2015. The settlement is believed to be the highest sum recorded in California involving an inmate suicide, according to the plaintiff’s attorney.
The case, filed in September of 2016, was set to go on trial on June 4 of this year in the Humboldt County federal courthouse but the settlement was reached prior. The County’s private medical provider, which remains confidential, also settled.
Dane Shikman brought suit against the County of Lake and its private jail medical provider for the constitutionally inadequate treatment of his mother.
The matter stems from the death of 56-year-old Elizabeth Dara Gaunt. She was found unresponsive on the floor of her cell on August 2, 2015, just over a day since her arrest.
Lake County Sheriff’s officers first made contact with Gaunt on Aug. 1, 2015, after receiving reports of a woman around Lakeshore Boulevard and Sayre Street in Nice, allegedly banging on different yard gates to homes.
Deputies Kalen Brockwalder and Michael Davis were dispatched to the area and began questioning Gaunt, who allegedly provided a false name and date, and thought she was in the state of Florida. She was then placed under arrest for suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance. Gaunt’s behavior was described as nice, and at other times she appeared hysterical during her time in custody.
The formal complaint documents Gaunt remained in the sobering cell for over 25 hours without ever being booked into the jail or evaluated by a medical doctor. During this time frame, she repeatedly made urgent requests to see a medical doctor, but the County’s private jail medical provider failed to contact a doctor and instead sent a licensed practical nurse, who do not qualify to perform detailed evaluations, render a diagnosis or make treatment decisions.
According to Shikman’s legal counsel, Michael Green and Matthew Lilligren, Gaunt’s mental condition deteriorated significantly while in jail. She began to experience hallucinations and became increasingly agitated and psychotic.
The nurse who last saw Gaunt on August 2 documented her active hallucinations and psychosis but allegedly failed to perform a medical examination, obtain vitals, or contact a medical doctor as required. Eventually, Gaunt affixed a torn piece of bedding to the faucet in her cell and tied the torn blanket around her neck to hang herself. Correctional officer Katherine Prince visited her cell to perform a cell check but allegedly failed to enter the cell to make the required direct visual observation of Gaunt to confirm her wellbeing.
She was found at the next cell check just over 10 minutes later. Medics arrived within minutes, but efforts to resuscitate the 56-year-old were not enough. Gaunt was transported to Sutter Lakeside Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
A toxic report showed Gaunt had a methamphetamine level of 0.8 mg/L and amphetamine level of 0.09 mg/L and the autopsy confirmed asphyxiation due to hanging as the cause of death.
The formal complaint states Gaunt was a mentally ill woman in need of acute mental health treatment and prior to Gaunt’s suicide, there was a history of numerous suicides at the Lake County Jail, which according to Dane Shikman’s attorneys, the defendants were well aware of the history of death by hanging at the jail. This history includes a completed suicide by hanging at the jail in 2010, 2012 and another in 2014.
When occurred, there was a contracted medical provider at the jail at the time of the suicides.
The District Attorney’s Office and Lake County Sheriff’s Office launched independent investigations into the incident, reviewing officers’ reports and interviews, jail records and video surveillance.
Following Gaunt’s death, Sheriff Brian Martin implemented many changes at the Lake County Jail. For example, the jail now only uses tear-resistant blankets, and all inmates are required to receive a mental health evaluation before being admitted into the jail.
The County has since updated its written policies and inmate observation logs to ensure better the correctional officers are performing safety checks and inmates evaluations promptly. Supervisors are now required to review inmate logs closer and more frequently to ensure compliance with these requirements.
Source: Lake County Record-Bee