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Inmate's death not caused by deputy's blow to head, coroner says

March 9, 2012 | 11:54 am

An autopsy has found that the sudden death of a Los Angeles County jail inmate last year was not caused by a deputy’s blow to his head two days prior but may have been linked to drugs the inmate was given for his mental illness.

George Rosales, 18, was found unresponsive in a single-person cell in the medical ward attached to the Twin Towers jail last October. He was pronounced dead a short time later at L.A. County-USC Medical Center.

Rosales had been punched in the head by a deputy two days earlier after the inmate made a break for an elevator, authorities said. The death came just as allegations of inmate abuse inside Los Angeles County lockups were receiving intensified scrutiny amid news that the jail system, the nation’s largest, was being investigated by the FBI.

At the time, the department’s watchdog said an autopsy was needed to determine if the blow played a role in the death.

The autopsy found that Rosales’ death was caused by an inflamed and hemorrhaging pancreas. His family’s attorney said the inmate did not have a history of pancreatic problems. The coroner’s office could not determine what caused the condition, saying possibilities include blunt abdominal trauma and the effects of drugs. The report noted that while force was used on Rosales two days prior to his death, “no abdominal impact reportedly occurred during the incident.”

The inmate was given two medications that, according to the report, are associated with the pancreatic condition that killed him. The coroner also determined that Rosales’ psychosis may have kept him from alerting medical officials about his symptoms and interfered with their ability to take blood draws that might have alerted them to his condition.

But attorney Luis Carrillo, who is representing Rosales’ family in a wrongful-death claim against the county, said the coroner’s office should have placed the blame on the jail’s medical staff rather than the patient. He noted that coroner’s tests found a high level of the drug Olanzapine in the dead inmate’s system -- more than is usually prescribed. He said the autopsy’s findings show that the Sheriff’s Department did not provide an adequate level of medical care for Rosales, who had been diagnosed as bipolar.

“If they were on the job, they should have seen that he was being overdosed,” Carrillo said. “They should have taken blood draws to monitor his health.... It was deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.”

Along with the forced used on Rosales by deputies, the report lists other incidents of trauma involving the 18-year-old while he was incarcerated.

A month before his death, he was in a multi-person housing unit when he apparently became dizzy and fell, striking his head. About two weeks later, he was in a day room doing push-ups, authorities said, “when he again fell and hit his head.”

During his time in jail, deputies reported Rosales was agitated and hostile -- on at least one instance, punching cell walls with his bare fists.

On the day of his death, Rosales was increasingly irrational, shouting inside his single-man cell and keeping other inmates awake, according to the coroner's report. When jailers last checked on him, he was seen drinking water from a cup he was dipping into the toilet. It’s unclear if his odd behavior was spurred by the dehydration that comes with the pancreatic condition he was suffering from. Later, Rosales was found unresponsive, and he was declared dead soon after.

Sheriff’s homicide Lt. Holly Francisco said the department’s investigation into the inmate death “will be closed because the blow had nothing to do with it ... we continued our investigation but once we got their results, it’ll be closed.”

Francisco said sheriff’s investigators interviewed inmate witnesses, personnel assigned to the modules where Rosales was housed, jailers involved in the use of force and the jail manager who handled use of force investigation.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department would be reviewing the findings of homicide investigators.


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