Jury Awards $3 Million to Family of Deceased San Diego County Jail Inmate

The family of a heroin addict who died of an asthma attack while detoxing in a San Diego jail will receive $3 million from the county, a federal jury determined Monday.

Twenty-one-year-old Daniel Sisson was arrested on June 23, 2011 for heroin possession while on probation. Two days later, he suffered an apparent withdrawal-induced asthma attack and died in his jail cell. That prompted a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department and San Diego County on various grounds, including wrongful death and cruel and unusual punishment.

On Monday, the jury found that the county and two nurses had, in fact, violated Sisson’s civil rights. They specifically criticized jail officials for improper check-ups and a lack of proper training for dealing with drug-addicted inmates.

The county’s counsel said it was disappointed by the verdict and is currently evaluating the next step. The county contends that Sisson lied about his drug use when he was first admitted to the jail, even refusing medical treatment at one point. Sisson’s medical records, however, showed a clear history of both drug use and asthma.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Christopher Morris, hopes the case will serve as a “catalyst for change” in the way jail officials treat detoxing inmates. His sentiment echoes those expressed by many others across the state. Earlier this year, for instance, a Santa Cruz County civil grand jury called for a revamping of detox protocols following a slew of local inmate deaths.

Read more about Monday’s verdict here.