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Family Of Man Who Died In Police Custody To Receive $3.5 Million Settlement From County

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San Diego County will pay 3.5 Million Dollars to the family of 39 year old Paul Silva, a menally ill man who died in custody after sheriff’s deputies tried to force him out of a jail cell back in 2018.The settlement is the largest for an in-custody death in the San Diego County Jail System … and it may not be the last.

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego County will pay $3.5 million to the family of 39 year old. Paul Silva, a mentally ill man who died in custody after Sheriff's deputies tried to force him out of a jail cell. Back in 2018, the settlement is the largest foreign in custody death in the San Diego County jail system. And it may not be the last Kelly Davis is a San Diego writer. Who's been covering the County jails. This latest article was a collaboration with the San Diego union Tribune. Kelly. Welcome. Hi, thank you. Remind us of why Paul Silva was in custody and what his health condition was like while there.

Speaker 2: 00:38 Yeah, so, uh, Paul Paul suffered from schizophrenia. He was, he was 39 years old. He'd been diagnosed when he was in his twenties and every now and then he stopped taking his medications. And when he did, you know, his mom, his parents would, would try to get him help his mom in the past had called nine one one and requested that the San Diego police departments, psychiatric emergency response team, asking for them for their assistance. And they would show up, they would talk to Paul calmly and they'd get him to comply. He'd start taking his medication again. And he was fine. So, so this was, uh, in, in February of 2018 and he had stopped taking his medication again. And this time, instead of the PERT team, the psychiatric emergency response team showing up three San Diego police officers showed up, they insisted Paul was on methamphetamine. His mom said, no, he's just having a psychotic episode. They arrest him. Anyhow, took him to jail and booked him for being under the influence, held him for 36 hours. During which time he kind of fell deeper into psychosis.

Speaker 1: 01:46 Now, San Diego County taxpayers will pay $3.5 million settlement to Silva's family. What did Silva experience while in jail? And where did officers go wrong and how they handle this?

Speaker 2: 01:58 His mom had hoped he'd be taken to a psychiatric facility or that when he was in the jail, he would be assessed, you know, for being schizophrenia and maybe placed in a holding cell where a clinician could, could meet with him and, and talk with him. Instead, he was kept in a holding cell for 36 hours. The lights were on constantly. He had no access to fresh water, no access to medical care. You can't lay down in these holding cells. We barely got enough food, which became an issue because he was diabetic and there's a video footage showing him increasingly acting bizarre, running around the cell, throwing himself to the ground, yelling at the wall. It was very clear that, that he, it should have been a very clear to law enforcement to deputies that this was signs of mental illness. Um, and so then because of his diabetes, he was also kind of showing the effects of, of hypoglycemia.

Speaker 1: 02:55 The Sheriff's department has since changed its cell extraction policy. You tell me about that

Speaker 2: 03:00 Is so, so one thing with Paul, you know, that it was a very violent sounds extraction. He had stopped breathing because of the weight on him from these six deputies, this tactical team that was trying to restrain him in one of the saddest parts of, you know, there's video of this. They finally restrained him after many, many minutes of him, you know, begging, pleading saying that he can't breathe when they restrained him. About three minutes have passed since, since you could hear his voice or anything. And finally someone says, is he still breathing? And so one of the new policies is that there has to be a safety deputy who's during a cell extraction. That deputy, his only job is to monitor the person to make sure that they're still breathing basically that they haven't and haven't suffered any serious injury. So I think that's the most significant change that definitely would have probably saved Paul's life.

Speaker 1: 03:56 You know, how many other lawsuits are there like this and how many in custody deaths have there been in recent years?

Speaker 2: 04:03 Yeah, so the, the, the Sheriff's department, sadly, um, averages at least a death or more a month, and this we've been, we've looked back, you know, 10, 12 years. And, and this has been a pattern and the County is currently facing at least a dozen lawsuits tied to deaths. Most of them are, have to do with deaths. Um, some of them have to do with, with serious injury where the, where the person is now in capacitated, you know, because of what happened to them in jail,

Speaker 1: 04:30 Based on the settlement Silva was having a medical emergency. Can you explain why it is? So often people experiencing psychological distress are taken to jail rather than a medical facility and how is the County addressing that?

Speaker 2: 04:44 Because it's police police who are called to, to handle these folks. The default is that there must be some, this person must be on drugs. It's it's, it can be hard to tell unless you have, you know, trained professional there, even then it can be tricky. Uh, but yeah, so that's what happens so often is that, is that folks who are experienced in mental breakdown, a little it's assumed they're on drugs, they're taken to jail. Um, there's often not enough clinicians on staff to do a diagnosis, uh, and, and beds in, in psychiatric facilities are so often full and there's no room. And so jail is, is the default. And, um, you know, supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who's now the chair of the board of supervisors. He's promised to allocate more money to mental health treatment, to open up more beds for folks having psychiatric emergencies. So that, yeah, so hopefully for folks like me, you know, what happened to Paul in the future? The default will be to, to have him taken to one of these facilities to be checked out first, instead of being taken to jail.

Speaker 1: 05:51 I've been speaking with Kelly Davis, a San Diego writer who covers San Diego County jails. Kelly, thank you for joining us. Thank you so much, Jane.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.