Lawsuit over Santa Cruz County jail death could be on way

By Jason Hoppin
Santa Cruz Sentinel News

SANTA CRUZ — The family of an inmate who died at Santa Cruz County’s Main Jail in August is taking steps toward suing the county, saying the 27-year-old woman was refused medical help before she died.

Christy Sanders died Aug. 25, 2012, while incarcerated for a probation violation. After being booked, the Felton resident was seen at Dominican Hospital and released, but later died in her cell after another inmate reported Sanders was having trouble breathing, jail authorities said at the time.

But a claim filed against the county alleges Sanders “begged” to be returned to the hospital and was denied. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office has said Sanders had a routine bed check eight minutes prior to the events leading to her death, and that nothing was out of the ordinary.

“Right now, I can’t make any comment,” said Phillip Passafuime, an attorney representing Sanders’ surviving family, including a minor son.

The county Board of Supervisors routinely rejects such claims, which are often precursors to a lawsuit. A Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman could not immediately comment on the claim.

An autopsy concluded Sanders died when puss filled the cavities between her lungs and chest wall, collapsing both lungs. The coroner’s office said intravenous drug use and liver problems contributed to the death, though the full autopsy report still hasn’t been finalized.

At the time of her death, a county sheriff’s spokesman said that after Sanders was booked, she was taken to Dominican Hospital for complaints of chest pain. End-stage liver disease can contribute to her condition, known as pulmonary atelectasis, which also can be detected by chest X-rays.

Authorities said jail inmates mourned the inmate’s death, and friends set up a memorial Facebook page — http://on.fb.me/YDf2HS — in her honor.

Sanders died just before the county handed over jail medical services to a private company. In the months after Sanders’ death, two more inmates died while in custody.

One was 57-year-old Rick Prichard, who collapsed during booking on suspicion of driving under the influence. The other was 47-year-old Brant Monnett, a tattoo artist who died in a detox cell.

On Saturday, a Santa Cruz-based group called Sin Barras posted on Sanders’ memorial page, saying it was organizing a march regarding recent jail deaths.

Follow Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsdude

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