Mother with mental health symptoms died in jail from 'torturous' neglect, lawsuit claims

8:40 p.m.

The family of a Washington state mother of five with bipolar disorder and psychosis says abuse and negligence at a jail that she did not deserve to be in led to her death.
Damaris Rodriguez's "death followed four days of inexcusable neglect and appalling conditions at the South Correctional Entity Jail (“SCORE”) that can only be described as torturous," says a lawsuit filed by her family in the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington in December, nearly two years after she was found dead in a jail cell.

Rodriguez's husband, Reynaldo, called 911 on Dec. 30, 2017, from their home in SeaTac to report that she was suffering a mental health episode and needed medical assistance, according to the lawsuit. While Reynaldo was not fluent in English, he was able to communicate to the dispatcher through an interpreter that he was not calling to report a crime. Rather, his wife was having a health crisis, and needed a doctor.
Nonetheless, "the police arrived before an ambulance," the lawsuit says. "This fact set in motion a tragic series of events that led Damaris to SCORE and to her eventual death."
Reynaldo also told deputies that his wife was "responding to voices in her head, becoming abnormally agitated, experiencing extreme anxiety and paranoia" and needed "to be seen by a mental health facility," the deputies assumed they were responding to a domestic violence incident, and instead of securing her medical treatment, they arrested her and brought her to SCORE.
"Taking an arrestee to a jail is much faster, easier, and requires less paperwork than taking an arrestee to a hospital," the lawsuit says.

Rodriguez was housed in a variety of cells at SCORE during her time there. Once, SCORE staff dragged her between cells, "twisting her shoulders into a painful position," Rodriguez's family alleges.
SCORE personnel repeatedly observed and noted that she had mental health and physical problems, but did nothing in four days to treat her, the suit says. Rodriguez was observed vomiting, stumbling in circles, grabbing her genitalia, spinning in circles, lying on her face, throwing food and displaying other erratic behavior, but she was never attended to.
At one point during Rodriguez's incarceration, SCORE staff consulted with NaphCare, the service the jail contracts for medical services, about her need for treatment. But she was never brought to a hospital or seen by a doctor or nurse practitioner, even after she was transferred to a "medical cell," the lawsuit says.
Instead, some jail staff assumed Rodriguez was under the influence, and on Jan. 2 drug tested her. "There are no commonly used drugs that could have conceivably caused Damaris to be under the influence for the nearly three days she had spent in custody" at that point, the lawsuit notes.

The test showed no drugs in Rodriguez's system.
Rodriguez had thrown most of the food provided to her in the toilet, due to her mental state. Jail authorities knew she wasn't eating.
During a 24 hour period between Jan. 2 and Jan. 3, guards simply did not leave Rodriguez with meals because she wasn't responding from inside her cell. She wasn't responding because her "demeanor started to become lethargic, evidencing the fact that her body was beginning to shut down."
The lasting starvation led to "an easily diagnosable and treatable metabolic condition called ketoacidosis," which leads to excessive water intake and fatally low sodium levels. A routine test of her urine, which had already been collected, would have shown "dangerously high levels of ketones and salt."

Corrections officers and medical staff were aware of the dangers of water intoxication. In fact, they even discussed and made notes about their concern that Damaris would experience water intoxication. However, they did not help her," the lawsuit says. They never screened her or evaluated if she needed any medications.
Instead, in response to Rodriguez's insatiable thirst, jail staff moved her to a cell with no sink. They covered the window so they wouldn't have to look at her, and they put towels in front of her door so that her vomit would not leak into the hallway, the suit alleges.
It was in that cell that Rodriguez's body was found. She was pronounced dead on Jan. 4.
"For Damaris, these four days were painful, confusing, and terrifying. What happened in these four days was also easily preventable," her family says. "Although ketoacidosis and water intoxication were the physiological mechanisms that shut her body down, the root cause of Damaris’s death was a system that did not care about her."

Rodriguez's husband tried desperately to contact SCORE and NaphCare, they made no effort to speak with him. When she died, the deputy who originally arrested Rodriguez called Reynaldo and "cryptically" told him to "call the medical examiner" about his wife, the lawsuit says.
The suit, which lists SCORE and NaphCare as defendants, blames improper training of staff and "a perverse financial incentive where cost-savings are prioritized over human life," for Rodriguez's death.
The suit accuses both SCORE and NaphCare of being "in the business of cut-rate incarceration."
Rodriguez's family's lawyers also allege that her death was one of "numerous recent in-custody deaths connected to SCORE and NaphCare," and that five of the seven most recent people who died in custody were people of color.

SCORE disclosed two inmate deaths in 2019, in April and September.
SCORE did not respond to NBC News' request for comment. But in a 2018 SCORE statement about Rodriguez's death said "corrections and medical staff immediately began resuscitation efforts" when she was found unresponsive, but "the inmate was unable to be revived and pronounced dead."
A statement from NaphCare said it was "deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life."
"While NaphCare does not comment on the details of pending litigation, we are confident in the quality of care provided to our patients," the statement said. "Unfortunately, the jail population, particularly those with serious mental illness, are highly prone to sudden, unpreventable cardiac events. The King County Medical Examiner determined the cause of death in this instance to be sudden and natural."

Rodriguez's family is accusing SCORE or NaphCare of negligence, cruel and unusual punishment, withholding of medical care, abuse, excessive use of force, assault and battery, failure to provide reasonable accommodations, false imprisonment and denial of right to a speedy trial.
They are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
They also allege the jail acted in violation of Washington's public records act. The family obtained much of the evidence in the suit by filing a public records request and obtaining surveillance video from the jail. However, many portions of video were missing, including from the time when Rodriguez stopped breathing and during periods when staffers logged or claimed that they had checked on her in her cell.
Mother with mental health symptoms died in jail from 'torturous' neglect, lawsuit claims Mother with mental health symptoms died in jail from 'torturous' neglect, lawsuit claims Reviewed by Anson Moore on February 12, 2020 Rating: 5

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