San Diego

Deputies Ignored Inmate's Heart Condition Causing His Death: Lawsuit

The death of a seriously-ill inmate at a San Diego County jail could put local taxpayers on the hook for a big legal judgement.

An autopsy report obtained by NBC 7 Investigates confirms 32-year old Michael Wilson died in San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSO) custody Feb. 14, 2019 at the downtown jail.

The cause of Wilson’s death is listed as “sudden cardiac death due to acute congestive heart failure” associated with an existing heart condition.

Wilson’s family recently filed a claim for damages against the county, alleging that the jail’s “medical and correctional staff ignored [Wilson’s] history of heart problems and failed to properly medicate” the inmate. That alleged failure to provide proper medical care lead the Wilson’s death, according to the claim.

The family’s attorneys, Julia Woo and Gene Iredale, told NBC 7 Investigates that jail staff had been warned about Wright’s precarious health, and his need for medical attention while serving a two-week sentence for a drug-related violation.

A court document confirms that Judge Cindy Davis, who sentenced Wright on Feb. 5, had ordered jail “medical staff to be aware that this defendant has some serious medical issues.”

Wilson, who had failed two court-ordered drug tests, was due back in court on Feb. 19. He died five days before that scheduled hearing.

The SDSO declined to comment on Wilson’s death, citing pending litigation. But a county spokesman told NBC 7 Investigates that county staff has rejected the family’s claim “because our review showed Mr. Wilson died of natural causes and (he) was provided appropriate medical care while in jail.”

The county routinely rejects legal claims, a move that gives plaintiff’s attorneys the ability to file a state or federal lawsuit on behalf of the victim’s survivors. On Tuesday, the family's attorney confirmed he intends to file a federal lawsuit against the county. "He (Wilson) died because of lack of proper medical care," attorney Gene Iredale reinterated.

Wilson’s death is among the most recent in-custody fatalities at county jails.

Data obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune -- and research by NBC 7 Investigates -- confirms that more than 140 inmates have died at county jails since 2009.

The Union-Tribune also reports that the jail death rate in San Diego is higher than any other large California county.

The newspaper’s research revealed that the county has paid more than $8 million in damages to the families of inmates who died or were seriously injured in our jails.

Suicides and fatal drug overdoses are serious problems for inmates.

In response, Sheriff Bill Gore has taken steps to improve inmate care and surveillance.

Gore’s department also hired a new chief medical officer and will soon add a mental health director for the jail system.

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