Wrongful death suit alleges jail staff failed to provide inmate with prompt medical care

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File photo – A view from outside San Diego Central Jail downtown.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The widow of a man who died at the San Diego Central Jail earlier this year has filed a lawsuit alleging jail staff failed to provide her husband with prompt medical attention and should have taken him to a hospital rather than booking him into custody.

Tammy Wilson alleges her husband, Omar Moreno Arroyo, 33, was clearly under the influence of drugs and had a heart condition that sheriff’s deputies were aware of when he was arrested on the morning of Jan. 6, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Diego federal court, which names San Diego County, Sheriff Bill Gore, a jail nurse and the deputy who booked Arroyo into custody as defendants.

While in a holding cell, Arroyo choked to death on a face mask less than a day after his arrest.

In a statement, sheriff’s Lt. Amber Baggs said, “The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department strives to provide the safest care to people who come into our jails and we are saddened Mr. Arroyo died while being processed at our jail early this year. We send our sincere and heartfelt condolences to Mr. Arroyo’s wife and family.”

In March, the department issued a statement indicating the county Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Arroyo died from accidental asphyxiation, with acute methamphetamine intoxication as a contributing factor.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Wilson called 911 after Arroyo began exhibiting bizarre behavior. According to the lawsuit, he “was under the influence of methamphetamine and was behaving in a paranoid and irrational way: looking under the bed, in the closet, and using a drill to make holes in the floor and walls of their home.”

Wilson alleges that once Arroyo was transported to San Diego Central Jail, the arresting deputies did not inform intake staff that he had a heart condition requiring daily medication or that he was suspected of being under the influence of drugs.

Wilson further alleges that after Arroyo began choking and exhibiting “seizure-like activity” in the holding cell, jail personnel did not respond in a timely fashion to begin life-saving measures.

Arroyo was to be released from custody on Jan. 6 shortly after being booked. Wilson, who waited outside the jail to pick him up, was not informed of his death until around 5 a.m. on Jan. 7, nearly six hours after he died, according to the lawsuit.

The sheriff’s department has come under scrutiny regarding a high number of in-custody deaths at San Diego County jails, leading to numerous lawsuits filed over the past few years.

Earlier this month, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office also announced criminal charges against a former nurse at the Las Colinas jail in Santee. Danalee Pascua, 36, faces an involuntary manslaughter count for allegedly failing to provide appropriate medical aid to a 24-year-old woman who died at the jail in late 2019.

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