Lassen County and city face lawsuit.
Sam Williams, Managing Editor.
Lassen Co. Times February 19, 2013.
UPDATEe Federal judge dismisses wrongful death lawsuit
Lassen County Times
Aug. 6, 2013 — Lassen County, the city of Susanville and officers from the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office and the Susanville Police Department are named as defendants in a $15 million wrongful death lawsuit filed in the United States District Court, Eastern District of California.
Other defendants include former Lassen County Sheriff Steve Warren, unnamed correctional officers, Susanville Police Officer Ed Vega and other unnamed police officers.
The suit alleges the actions and inactions of local police officers and officers at the Lassen County Adult Detention Facility led to Michael Parker’s death at Renown Medical Center in Reno Nov. 5,2009.
The plaintiff is Nancy Schwartz, Parker’s mother, and the administrator of his estate.
The plaintiff demands a jury trial, $15 million in compensatory damages, nominal damages, court costs, attorney fees and other relief as the court deems just and proper.
The suit’s claims for relief include cruel and unusual punishment and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs; deprivation of basic necessities of life; deprivation of life without due process; failure to provide medical care for a serious medical condition; failure to summon medical care for an inmate; failure to discharge mandatory duty; reckless or malicious neglect of a dependent adult; deprivation of familial relationships and violation of due process and right of association; and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
According to court documents, Schwartz alleges two months before her son died he had lost 40 pounds while in custody for only two weeks, and “it was clear to even a layperson that his health was deteriorating and that he needed emergency medical treatment if his life was to be saved.”
The plaintiffs allege when Schwartz asked her son why he had not seen a doctor while in custody, the staff had told him to “quit complaining and make the best of it.”
She alleges her son “was denied medical treatment until it was too late to save his life,” according to the court documents.
Parker, who suffered from “a congenital heart defect and aggravation of colon abscess,” was admitted to Renown Medical Center Oct. 22, 2009 “because his suffering had become so intense, and his health was failing so quickly.”
The sheriff’s office allegedly did not inform Schwartz her son had been transported to Renown “until Mineau informed her after three weeks of not allowing her to see or know where her son was, that her son was in critical condition and had been released from the facility and was at Renown Hospital,” the court documents allege.
According to the court documents, the detention facility “had a pattern and practice of ignoring inmates’ calls for medical help prior to the time that Michael Parker was condemned to death by the detention facility staff.”
Parker “died a miserable and suffering death knowing that Lassen County and the city of Susanville had intentionally or with reckless disregard caused him to die over an arrest that was vindictive, unsupported by probable cause, ill-advised and part of a repeated series of wrongful arrests and incarcerations … ” and “Lassen County intentionally and with reckless disregard for Michael Parker’s right to live, took his life,” the court documents allege.
City and county respond
On May 13, 2013, the city of Susanville responded to a motion for summary judgment that the plaintiffs advanced multiple theories of constitutional violations by Vega, but those theories lack a factual basis.
The city also argued Parker did not have a medical condition that warranted medical attention at the time of his arrest, and no one asked Dr. Hal Meadows, Parker’s physician, to request a medical release from custody.
According to a Meadows’ deposition, mentioned in the court documents, Parker had no symptoms when Meadows examined him Oct. 4, 2009.
The city asked the court to dismiss the case against it because the plaintiff’s claims are “a collection of isolated facts which have no bearing on whether or not the Susanville Police Department had policies, practices or procedures which were the driving force behind an alleged constitutional violation committed by Officer Vega.”
The county responded to some of the allegations April 17, 2013 and sought to strike facts unsupported by evidence.
The county also disputes many of the plaintiff’s allegations and facts, and a response to the plaintiff’s summary judgment motion is expected by Aug. 22.
Timeline provides details of alledged wrongful death.
According to the plaintiff's version of events included in the court documents, Michael Parker, Nancy Schwartz"s son, was arrested July 3, 2009 and charged with misdemeanor "lewd vagrancy, peep, prowl and stalking." His bail was set at $3,750.
On July 17, 2009, he was charged with violating a temporary restraining order sought by his girlfriend for a message he allegedly left on her answering machine and for allegedly driving by her house and arrested at Lassen County Fairgrounds.
On July 23, 2009, Parker asked to see a doctor while in custody, but a physician's assistant saw him instead who told him he had the flu. Parker saw the physician's assistant two or more times in the following two weeks.
On Aug. 6, 2009, an X-ray revealed Parker was suffering from an infected colon.
On Aug. 7, 2009, he bailed out of jail and had emergency surgery at Renown Medical
Center in Reno, and a drain tube was inserted into his colon due to the advanced stage of the infection. He was released from the hospital Aug. 13, 2009.
On Aug. 19, 2009, Dr. Hal Meadows, Parker's family physician and the contracted
Physician for the Lassen County Adult Detention Facility removed the drain tube at his office.
On Sept. 11, 2009, Meadows wrote a letter that he had treated Parker surgically for a "pelvic abscess" and that another surgical procedure would be necessary and, "if possible his upcoming incarceration should be converted to house arrest because of the need for ongoing surgical care in Reno, coupled with hospitalization and numerous follow-ups."
On Sept. 22, after Schwartz, a bail bondsman, had made a deposit at a local bank about
11 a.m. she discovered six police cars around her truck in which her son was a passenger.
The officers told her Parker had been seen driving the truck by his girlfriend's residence.
Schwartz told the officers Parker had been with her since her return from Alturas earlier in the day, and the truck had been in her sole possession since the day before. Two officers reportedly refused to participate in Parker's arrest, but Susanville Police Officer Ed Vega took him into custody.
Schwartz alleges Vega arrested her son despite knowing of Meadows' letter, and Parker was taken to jail despite other officers' knowledge of Meadows' letter. She also alleges the reports from her son's girlfriend were "wholly unreliable and self-serving." In addition, the officers did not investigate the allegations, and Parker was arrested "without a scintilla of probable cause."
Lassen County Undersheriff John Mineau allegedly influenced the court to set the bail high in an effort to keep Parker "off the street." As a result, bail was set at $15,000 beyond Schwartz's bondable limit.
On Sept. 30, 2009, Schwartz asked an unknown guard to release her son for medical attention. Her plea went unheeded.
On Oct. 7, 2009, Schwartz noticed her son had lost 40 pounds during two weeks of incarceration.
On Oct. 22, 2009, Parker left the Lassen County Adult Detention Facility and Transported to Renown Medical Center in Reno where he died Nov. 5, 2009.
Federal judge dismisses wrongful death lawsuit
Lassen County Times
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
A federal judge has dismissed and closed a $15 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by Nancy Schwarz on behalf of her son, Michael Parker, who died at Renown Medical Center in Reno after being incarcerated at the Lassen County Detention Facility in Susanville in 2009.
Defendants in the lawsuit include Lassen County, undersheriff John Mineau (who serves as the jail commander) and the city of Susanville as well as former Lassen County Sheriff Steven Warren, unnamed correctional officers, Susanville Police Officer Ed Vega and other unnamed police officers.
According to a Sept. 27 ruling by United States District Court Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. The defendant’s motion for summary judgment regarding federal claims were dismissed without prejudice due to lack of jurisdiction.
The suit’s claims for relief based on alleged violations of the U.S. Constitution include cruel and unusual punishment and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs; deprivation basic necessities; deprivation of life without due process; failure to provide medical care for a serious medical condition; failure to summon medical care for an inmate; failure to discharge mandatory duty; deprivation of familial relationships and violation of due process and right of association; and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Claims against the city
According to the judge’s analysis of the case against the city of Susanville, the plaintiffs argued Vega violated Parker’s constitutional rights because to take him into custody, Parker should not have been arrested due to his medical condition and the alleged practice of raising or setting the bail through ex parte communications with judge violated Parker’s constitutional rights.
The judge disagreed. “There is simply no evidence before the court even remotely raising a genuine issue of material fact which would allow a reasonable jury to find officer Vega’s conduct shocks the conscience in arresting Parker.”
According to the judge, the case against the city is based on Monell v. Department of Social Services.
The Monell case requires the plaintiff to prove the city’s actions shocks the conscience. Likewise, the judge ruled Parker’s incarceration did not shock the conscience.
“There is simply nothing ‘shocking’ about a police officer affecting an arrest when the police officer has probable cause ... and the arrestee faces no immediate medical emergency,” Morrison wrote. “The court declines to set a precedent under which simply arresting a person who claims to have a serious medical condition, but is not having a medical emergency is conduct that ‘shocks the conscience.’”
The judge wrote the deposition from former Susanville Police Chief Jeff Atkinson regarding the way bail is sometimes set is not included in the court file, and the plaintiff’s deposition of Vega reveals he had nothing to do with setting the bail.
“In sum, the circumstances of Parker’s arrest do not ‘shock the conscience.’” Morrison wrote. “Plaintiff presents not a scintilla of evidence showing that officer Vega or any of the other officers or the city of Susanville violated her First Amendment right to familial association.
“Plaintiff’s assert several theories as to Susanville’s policies which may give rise to Monell liability,” Morrison wrote. “However, plaintiff points to no policy nor evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact as to where interfered with plaintiff’s First Amendment associational rights ... Thus, there is no evidence of a First Amendment violation.”
Claims against the county
In the part of the case against the county, Morrison questioned parts of the plaintiff’s pleading for example, a definition of sepsis taken from Wikipedia that “may not be considered as admissible evidence.”
While the plaintiff alleges the Lassen County Adult Detention Facility has a policy of “failing to properly screen individuals for medical issues, their medications and whether the individual is experiencing an emergency medical condition,” the judge wrote, “While there may be a failure to establish a policy to address the immediate medication needs of inmates, there is not a scintilla of evidence causally linking this policy to Parker’s constitutional injury.”
The judge also wrote, “Plaintiff has put forward no evidence that the bail amount was inaccurate in Parker’s case.”
“In sum... plaintiff has presented no evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding a policy or practice or lack thereof that was the moving force of the alleged constitutional violations.”
Claims against Mineau
According to Morrison’s ruling, the plaintiff “must show that there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether Parker has ‘a serious medical need’ and that Mineau was ‘deliberately indifferent’ to that need ... Plaintiff has provided the court with absolutely no evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact as to whether there is ‘culpable action or inaction’ directly attributed to Mineau.”