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Federal Jury Finds Monterey County Liable for Death of Mark Pajas Sr. After County Failed to Provide Him Medical Care at Jail

By Shaleen Shanbhag of Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP posted in police misconducton Friday, February 8, 2019.

On February 7, 2019, a seven-person jury in federal court in San Jose, CA unanimously found in favor of the family of Mark Pajas Sr., who died in the custody of Monterey County Jail on January 20, 2015. The jury found that the County of Monterey violated Mr. Pajas's right to adequate medical care under the United States Constitution when Monterey County Sheriff's Office deputies failed to adequately monitor Mr. Pajas as he detoxified from heroin, resulting in Mr. Pajas's death within twenty hours of his arrival at the Monterey County Jail in January 2015.

Upon his arrival at the Jail, Mr. Pajas immediately and repeatedly notified custody and medical staff that he was a heroin user and needed medical help during withdrawal. Despite Mr. Pajas's eventual placement in a sobering cell for detoxifying detainees, deputies violated Jail policy requiring that safety checks be completed every fifteen minutes for detainees in sobering cells-checks that Jail officials admitted were necessary to prevent harm to detainees in Jail custody, but that they knew from their own internal audits were routinely being skipped at the time Mr. Pajas was in the Jail.

The last time custody conducted a safety check of Mr. Pajas's sobering cell was 1:45 p.m. on January 20, 2015. Twenty-nine minutes later, at 2:14 p.m., he was found unconscious in his cell, face down in his own vomit. At trial, Defendants' medical expert admitted that if Jail staff had conducted the required safety checks, Mr. Pajas would likely have been alive today.

While the County of Monterey contracts with a private medical group, California Forensic Medical Group, to provide medical services at the Jail, the County nonetheless has the legal duty to ensure the provision of adequate and necessary medical treatment to persons incarcerated in the Jail.

The jury also found that the County of Monterey deprived Mr. Pajas Sr.'s wife, Rosemary Lopez, and four adult children, Yvette, Janel, Mark Jr., and Xavier, of their familial relationships with Mr. Pajas, and awarded the family $1.6 million in damages. Attorneys' fees will be determined separately by the court. HSR partners Lori Rifkin and Dan Stormer and associates Shaleen Shanbhag and Jordyn Bishop represented the family of Mr. Pajas during the eight-day trial.

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