The family members of Damaris Rodriguez, who died while in custody at South Correctional Entity Jail in 2018, have filed a lawsuit against the correctional facility for alleged abuse and neglect.
On Dec. 30, 2017, Rodriguez’s husband, Reynaldo Gil, called 911 to report that she was suffering a mental health episode and needed medical assistance. He told the dispatcher that he wasn’t reporting a crime.
However, police arrived at the home before the ambulance did. Gil explained to the police officers 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,” but the deputies assumed they were responding to a domestic violence incident, and, instead of securing medical treatment, they arrested her and took her to South Correctional Entity Jail.
“Taking an arrestee to a jail is much faster, easier, and requires less paperwork than taking an arrestee to a hospital,” the lawsuit claims.
Rodriguez spent four days alone in a cell at the correctional facility, which is in Des Moines, in King County south of Seattle.
The suit claims that jail personnel repeatedly observed and noted that Rodgriguez had mental health and physical problems, but didn’t do anything to help her. She was observed vomiting, stumbling in circles, grabbing her genitalia, spinning in circles, lying on her face, throwing food and displaying other disturbing behavior.
The jail staff assumed she was under the influence and tested her for drugs.
“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,” the lawsuit says.
No drugs were found in her system.
According to the lawsuit, Rodriguez had thrown most of her food in the toilet because of her mental state and jail staff knew she wasn’t eating.
Between Jan. 2 and Jan. 3, guards didn’t give Rodriguez meals because she wasn’t responding from inside her cell. The lawsuit says she wasn’t responding because her “demeanor started to become lethargic, evidencing the fact that her body was beginning to shut down.”
The suit adds that 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.
Rodriguez was found dead in her cell 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.”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.