San Diego County

San Diego County Pays $595,000 to Settle Lawsuit From Family of North County Man Who Died by Suicide in Jail

The family’s attorney said legal action prompted improvements in care of mentally ill inmates

San Diego County recently paid more than half of a million dollars to the family of a North County man who died by suicide in a Vista jail, according to documents obtained by NBC 7.

Rochelle Nishimoto said she told sheriff’s deputies that her 44-year-old son, Jason Nishimoto, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had a history of suicide attempts. Rochelle Nishimoto also said her family told dispatchers that Jason Nishimoto had swallowed a bottle of tranquilizers before they arrested him in September 2015.

According to the family, deputies disregarded those warnings and placed Jason Nishimoto in solitary confinement, where he used a bed sheet to hang himself.

The Nishimotos sued, and the county paid $595,000 to the family to settle the lawsuit, according to documents.

The family’s attorney, Danielle Pena, said county records showed there were 17 suicides in local jails from 2014 to 2016. Pena told NBC 7 that most of the suicides involved mentally ill inmates.

Pena said the family’s lawsuit generated significant media attention that, in turn, prompted investigations by the San Diego County Grand Jury and Disability Rights California, an independent watchdog group.

“Both recommended modifications to the jails’ suicide prevention programs and deputy and staff training,” Pena said. “And the county did that. And in 2017, they reported zero jail suicides. So I like to think this case made a difference.”

A county spokesman declined to comment on the settlement, but the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department confirmed it has taken several significant steps to reduce in-custody deaths, including the establishment of a “Suicide Prevention and Focused Response Team.”

Department spokesman Lt. Justin White said jail supervisors have also “strengthened the intake screening process to more effectively identify inmates who pose a greater risk of suicide or self-harm.”

Other improvements include the recent approval of funding for the hiring of 15 additional mental health clinicians for the jail system.

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting 'Home' to 741741.

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