San Diego

Suicide Attempts in San Diego County Juvenile Facilities More Than Doubled in Two Years

Death of 16-year-old Rosemary Summers raising serious questions

 Data from the state corrections agency shows suicide attempts by juveniles inside San Diego County detention facilities has increased each year since 2011.

Mack Jenkins, chief probation officer for the County of San Diego said the increase in reported attempts was the result of an expanded interpretation of the term, "suicide attempt." Specifically, the numbers included occasions when juveniles made a "verbal expression or a gesture of intent to hurt themselves."

The County of San Diego's Probation Department operates two maximum-security juvenile halls. They also operate three, minimum-security, facilities. Offenders are 10 to 19 years old and held for crimes ranging from truancy to murder. According to the county probation department, juvenile detention centers focus on intervention and rehabilitation.

Rosemary Summers was booked into one of the county’s juvenile halls in 2011 after being charged with resisting arrest and marijuana possession. She spent the next year-and-a-half in and out of the Kearny Mesa facility. Her last arrest came after she attended a 2013 rally for Trayvon Martin and didn't notify her probation officer.

“Underneath all of these reasons she ended up in the hall, because she could be sassy, was a very sensitive person,” Deb Chanterelle, Summers’ grandmother said.

In September 2013, detention facility staff noticed Summers’ cell's window was covered with paper. When they went inside, they found Summers dead, hanging from an air vent by a bed sheet.

“I was speechless I couldn’t think about anything,” said her half-sister Genora Gonzalez.

Summers was 16-years-old.

Her death is now raising some serious questions and has her family wondering if the detention facility staff did everything they could to prevent her death.

“We will never be the same again as a family that has been taken away, we will get through it but we will never get over her loss,” Chanterelle said.

The California Board of State and Community Corrections reports there were eight suicide attempts at San Diego County juvenile hall facilities in 2011. That number went up to 11 in 2012 and then more than doubled to 25 attempts in 2013.

Summers’ family said she was diagnosed with depression. They told NBC 7 Investigates they believe more needs to be done to protect the young people inside juvenile detention facilities, who are the most vulnerable. The family filed a lawsuit against the county. In it they say the juvenile hall staff knew the teen was a suicide risk.

According to the lawsuit, she was over medicated, potentially intensifying suicidal thoughts and the facility was understaffed the night of Summers’ death.

It also claims she was sent her to her room alone when she was upset.

“You don't send someone to their room which they knew she had suicidal ideations,” Chanterelle said.

Citing pending litigation, Jenkins declined an on-camera interview but sent NBC 7 Investigates a statement saying in part, "the physical safety and emotional well-being of youth in the Probation Department's custody are our top priorities."

The attorney for Summers’ family is in the process of taking depositions from witnesses for the case. According to the attorney, if it goes to trial, it would likely take place in the spring of 2016.

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