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Mother sues San Diego Sheriff after her mentally-ill son died in jail from drinking too much water

Voices in Daniel Marroquin's head told him he could speak to his mother by drinking water from the cell toilet. His mother says guards failed to ensure his safety.

SAN DIEGO — The mother of a San Diego man who suffered from mental illness says jail guards failed to prevent his death by continually drinking water from the jail cell toilet. 

In a new federal lawsuit, the latest in dozens of lawsuits that have been filed in recent years alleging inadequate and unsafe conditions in county jails and costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, Alba Marroquin de Portillo says her son Daniel suffered from severe mental illness. 

On May 30, 2021, Mr. Marroquin was incarcerated at the San Diego Central Jail as a pretrial detainee. In her lawsuit, Mr. Marroquin's mother, says jail guards knew that Mr. Marroquin was in the grips of a mental health crisis. Despite his condition, jail guards, according to the lawsuit, removed him from a "safety cell" inside the Central Jail and placed him into a cell without other inmates and limited supervision by jail staff.

In her lawsuit, Mr. Marroquin's mother says her son was haunted by delusions and hallucinations that someone was going to hurt her. She would stay in frequent contact with him to ensure him that she was safe.

However, Mr. Marroquin's placement in the unsupervised cell prevented him from communicating with her.

The voices in his head, according to the lawsuit, grew louder over the course of his incarceration, beginning in December 2020 through his death in May 2021.

On numerous occasions during his six months inside the Central Jail, staff placed Mr. Marroquin inside a "safety cell" to prevent him from harming himself. Safety cells, according to the lawsuit, are cells that are padded, with no running water, a toilet, or bedding, and routinely supervised to prevent detainees from self-harm.

From March through April 2021, while awaiting a psychiatric evaluation, Mr. Marroquin tried to kill himself on more than one occasion, prompting guards and staff to transfer him to Enhanced Observation Housing where detainees were checked on every 15 minutes.

"In total, Mr. Marroquin had been placed in a safety cell at least eleven times and had been placed in [Enhanced Observation Housing] at least seventeen times, during his incarceration from December 2020 through May 2021," reads the lawsuit.

Throughout that time, staff, says the lawsuit, would find Mr. Marroquin with his head inside the toilet, drinking water profusely, and attempting to drown himself.

On May 30, 2021, guards transferred him to a less secure cell, where hours later staff found him dead.

Reads the lawsuit, "The decision to transfer Mr. Marroquin was shocking for several reasons, including the fact that he had been under near constant observation for weeks on the jail’s psychiatric floor; the fact that the transfer occurred on a Sunday when the staff who usually treated Mr. Marroquin, and who cared about Mr. Marroquin, were off work; and the fact that a clinician with little to no actual knowledge of Mr. Marroquin’s condition approved the transfer."

The new federal lawsuit comes as San Diego County and the Sheriff's Department work to address severe deficiencies inside county lockups, deficiencies that were included in a February 2022 state audit that found the department "failed to adequately prevent and respond" to jail deaths. 

According to the audit, from 2006 through 2020, 185 people died in county jails. And, since 2020, that number increased by nearly 50 additional deaths. 

The problems inside San Diego County jails have also prompted dozens of lawsuits and resulted in taxpayers paying more than $37 million since 2018.

But for the families of those who have died, the loss is immeasurable, and most importantly, they feel is completely preventable.

"At no time during this incarceration by the County was Mr. Marroquin ever taken to a hospital for inpatient psychiatric treatment," reads the lawsuit. "To the contrary, jail staff repeatedly failed to produce Mr. Marroquin for court-ordered psychiatric evaluations and court dates. Had Mr. Marroquin been properly evaluated, it is more likely than not he would have been sent to a state mental health hospital for treatment and stabilization, prior to any continuation of his underlying criminal proceedings. The County took Mr. Marroquin into its custody and then deliberately and recklessly failed to ensure his safety."

CBS 8 reached out to the Sheriff's Department for comment. This article will be updated when and if it responds.


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