Santa Clara County to pay $1 million in lawsuit over Naked Guy’s suicide
The Mercury News, May 17, 2009
To many, Luis Andrew Martinez was simply the Naked Guy — a Berkeley fixture who gained national notoriety in the 1990s for refusing to wear clothes.
About 10 years later, on May 18, 2006, isolated and alone in a Santa Clara County Jail cell, Martinez — a diagnosed schizophrenic — tied a plastic bag around his head and killed himself.
Today — on the third anniversary of his death — lawyers for his family plan to announce a $1 million settlement reached with Santa Clara County, along with an agreement from the county to adopt a policy in how it deals with mentally ill inmates.
“Andrew was a victim of a failed system of criminalizing mental illness and warehousing sick people in jails without adequate facilities and qualified medical staffs for the treatment of their sickness,” said Geri Lynn Green, attorney for Martinez’s mother, Esther Krenn. “The whole safety net fell apart in Santa Clara. It was a total failure by the jail to provide necessary care.”
In the wrongful death suit filed in federal court in 2006, Krenn, a Cupertino resident, accused the county of violating her son’s civil rights by failing to provide the proper care for him and allowing conditions at the main jail to deteriorate to the point where they ignored his safety.
“Andrew loved life and had a pure soul,” Krenn said. “He never wanted to hurt anyone including himself. This is just the beginning of my effort to promote the mentally ill agenda and increase public awareness. I don’t want this to happen to other people.”
Santa Clara County officials said a trial would have been too costly, so they settled the lawsuit. “Everybody worked hard to reach a resolution in the case,” said John Winchester, lead deputy county counsel.
As part of the settlement, the county has agreed to a policy of notifying family members — with the inmate’s consent — whenever an inmate is taken to the acute psychiatric unit. Winchester said while mental health staff generally has regular contact with the family of such patients, it was not a formal policy.
According to a national survey by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in 2006, 24 percent of state prisoners and 21 percent of local jail prisoners had a recent history of mental health disorders.
At the time of his death, Martinez, 33, had been incarcerated for 29 months in Santa Clara County’s main jail, during which he had been hospitalized on a variety of occasions because of his deteriorating mental state. Martinez, who had been housed in a cell by himself, was awaiting trial on two counts of battery and one count of assault with a deadly weapon, stemming from a confrontation with a guard in a halfway house.
By then, the nonconformist who had made headlines for his nakedness while attending the University of California-Berkeley had descended into the nightmare world of schizophrenia, having spent nearly a decade bouncing from jails to mental-health institutions. The world was far different from his days as a popular football star and wrestler in Cupertino, where he took his first nude walk.
He took that tradition with him when in 1990 he entered UC-Berkeley, where he eventually began strolling the campus and city streets wearing only shoes and a backpack. He became known as the Naked Guy in 1992, shunning clothes he believed to be a symbol of elitism and repression. His flagrant outings brought him appearances on national television shows and inspired Berkeley’s first anti-public-nudity ordinance.
Finally, the campus had enough and expelled him in 1993, but he remained in Berkeley, earning his second-degree brown belt in judo in 1994. Shortly after, he began behaving erratically and was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Only too aware of his fragile mental state, Krenn said, she would call the jail to check up on her son and no one ever told her of a failed suicide attempt. Three weeks before his suicide, Martinez had tried to hang himself by tying a bedsheet to the second tier of the main jail.
“I had no idea,” Krenn said. “If I had known, I would have gone to see him. I had been wondering how he was doing.”
The lawsuit contended that days before his death, he had been released from the acute psychiatric unit to a maximum security cell and was not given the medical care and follow-up treatment he required.
On the evening of his death, Krenn’s attorney said, only one officer was on duty, and by the time the officer went to get help, it was too late. According to the autopsy report, he had no medications in his system for schizophrenia.
“The way he died, alone, is a nightmare that is going to be with me the rest of my life,” his mother said. “There’s a whole part of my soul that hurts.”
Source: The Mercury News