Lawsuit settled in ‘Naked Guy’ jail suicide
KTVU, SFGATE, May 19, 2009
Santa Clara County has agreed to pay $1 million to settle a federal wrongful-death suit filed over the jailhouse suicide of the former UC Berkeley student known as the “Naked Guy,” attorneys in the case said Monday.
Andrew Martinez, 33, died after tying a plastic bag over his head in May 2006, less than three weeks after he had tried to hang himself in his cell. His mother, Esther Krenn of Cupertino, said jail officials hadn’t notified relatives of the first suicide try and had done little to ensure he wouldn’t make another attempt.
Under the settlement with Krenn – announced on the third anniversary of Martinez’s suicide – the county agreed to notify family members when an inmate attempts suicide or undergoes a psychiatric crisis, as long as the inmate consents upon his or her arrival at the jail’s acute psychiatric unit.
The practice had already been part of the county’s policy for treating mentally ill inmates, but it had not been formalized in writing, said John Winchester, lead deputy county counsel.
“I’m hopeful that it’s a step forward,” said Krenn’s attorney, Geri Lynn Green of San Francisco. “That’s the idea, that we understand that the value of the life of a mentally ill person is very important. It certainly doesn’t solve the problem, but part of the problem is understanding that we need to acknowledge the problem.”
Martinez became famous as the Naked Guy in 1992, after he started attending his UC Berkeley classes in the buff. He said his nakedness was a form of free speech and a challenge to what he saw as the sexual repression of Western society.
Martinez was arrested in the fall of 1992 for indecent exposure while he was jogging naked in Berkeley. Three months later, he was expelled from the university for violating the campus code of conduct.
His mother’s lawsuit said Martinez was diagnosed as schizophrenic in 1997. He spent the rest of his life bouncing among halfway houses, psychiatric institutions, homelessness and jail but never received comprehensive treatment, his family said.
The county and Krenn agreed to the lawsuit settlement April 22. The county paid its insurance deductible of $500,000, and the rest was paid by its insurance carrier, Winchester said.
Martinez was in jail for allegedly assaulting a staff member at a halfway house. After he was booked, he allegedly assaulted a jail staffer.
He died of asphyxiation May 18, 2006, after pulling a plastic bag over his head and tying it around his neck with a torn bed sheet, according to an autopsy report.
In her lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Krenn said her son tried to hang himself in jail on May 1, 2006, and that jail officials had failed to transfer him to the mental-health wing after that incident.
“He was discharged back to the general population in a maximum security cell,” said the suit, which named 11 county jail, medical and mental health officials as defendants. “There were no instructions to remove dangerous items from his cell.”
As a result, the suit said, “Andrew Martinez did exactly what he told defendants he would do if given the opportunity. He killed himself.”
Green said, “For Andrew, incarceration without adequate medical care was a death sentence.”