Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Officials, Medical Group Sued Over Woman’s Death

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department and the group that runs medical care for the county jail have been sued by the family of a 23-year-old woman who died in custody last year.

Attorney Dana Scruggs, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Krista DeLuca’s daughter, said she was denied appropriate medical care while interned at the county jail. DeLuca was withdrawing from opiates at the time and experiencing a number of side effects, including chills, vomiting and severe headaches. She asked to go to the hospital but was refused. Instead, guards told her to practice breathing exercises and drink Gatorade.

DeLuca passed away at the jail on September 29, 2015. An autopsy later showed that she died of acute aspiration pneumonia, dehydration and a probable electrolyte imbalance associated with detox-related vomiting.

DeLuca’s death was “absolutely” preventable, Scruggs said. A subsequent grand jury investigation found numerous problems surrounding the incident and issued a series of recommendations for the county going forward.

The lawsuit names Sheriff Jim Hart; Undersheriff Jeremy Verinsky; Chief Deputy Jeff Marsh; Lt. Kelly Kent; and California Forensic Medical Group, a for-profit company that contracts with the county. Scruggs claims that California Forensic Medical has a disincentive to refer inmates to the hospital because it’s liable for up to $15,000 of inmates’ inpatient medical care. The county has since decided to exclude that provision from the company’s new contract—one of the recommendations handed down by the grand jury.

DeLuca’s death is just one of six to have occurred at the county jail since October of 2012.

Read more about DeLuca’s death and the civil suit here.