San Diego County Sheriff's Department

Woman Gouged Out Her Eyes While in Jail in San Diego County: Lawsuit

Tanya Suarez, 24, has filed a lawsuit against the County of San Diego, saying jail staff failed to protect her from herself

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A 24-year-old woman is suing the County of San Diego, claiming she should not have been left alone and unrestrained in a jail cell, where she ended up gouging out both of her eyes.

Tanya Suarez was taken to Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee on May 6, 2019, after police took her into custody at a South Bay hotel.  She admitted she had been doing drugs with friends at that hotel and said she started experiencing paranoia and delusions.

"I was, like, freaking out,” Suarez told NBC 7. “I even considered walking into the freeway and just getting run over by a car.”

She said in her delusional state, she was convinced the authorities were working with drug cartels and planned to torture her.

Suarez said she struggled with depression and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

"My head was, like, very sick, very twisted,” she said, adding her “thinking was totally like from one nightmare movie.”

Her attorney, Chris Morris, said medical records show Suarez began to scratch at her eyes during the intake process at Las Colinas.

“ I just started, like, trying to take my eyes out, like the left one first,” she recalled.

Suarez said the nurses saw her, tackled her to the floor and handcuffed her.  She said they trimmed her acrylic nails, leaving them with jagged edges.  She said that’s when they took off the restraints and left her in a suicide safety cell, alone and unsupervised,

"So leaving her alone, with clipped nails unsupervised, she was able to finish the job she started in front of them,"  Morris told NBC 7.

The lawsuit claims jail staff failed to protect Suarez from herself, and that taking reasonable steps to do so is required by law.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department will not comment on pending litigation.

However, in recent interviews, the sheriff's department has told NBC 7 it’s working to improve mental health services in its jails. 

The improvements include: training staff in suicide prevention, changing the intake process to screen for mental health and hiring more staff to support mental health services in the jails.

According to the National Institutes of Health, "self- enucleation," the removal of one's own eyes, is a rare form of self-mutilation that's often associated with psychiatric disorders, including substance-induced psychosis and bipolar disorder.

Suarez was in the hospital recovering for two months.  She also received mental health care.

"It was really, really sad for me,” she said. “I was, like, living in a hell.”

Suarez was studying psychology at San Diego State University and was just seven credits short of graduating when the incident happened.

She said she started to hang out with the wrong crowd at home in National City because she was shy and felt isolated as a commuter student.

Suarez now lives at home with her parents.  She said she misses her independence and driving.

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