The San Diego County jails have the highest death rate of any large county in California. Well over 200 people have died in Sheriff department custody since 2006. Filed in federal court in the Southern District of California, this lawsuit challenges the County of San Diego, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego County Probation Department, and medical and mental health contractors for the San Diego County jails, for their collective failure to provide adequate medical and mental health care and living conditions for people incarcerated in county jails, as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the disproportionate overincarceration of people with disabilities and people of color.

The lawsuit demands that the county implement measures to improve safety and protect the rights of people incarcerated in county jails. These measures include ensuring adequate physical, mental, and dental health care; accommodating incarcerated people with disabilities; and providing more meaningful alternatives to incarceration.

The amended complaint was filed by Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP (RBGG), DLA Piper US LLP (DLA Piper), the Law Office of Aaron J. Fischer (Aaron Fischer), and the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC).

In 2021,  county jail deaths were largely attributable to suicide, overdoses, homicide and medical neglect – deaths that are often preventable with adequate policies, practices, training and supervision in place. Here are just a few examples of the deaths that occurred in San Diego County jails and described in our complaint:

  • Lester Marroquin drowned himself shortly after deputies ordered his transfer from a high-observation safety cell to a less frequently observed segregation cell. This transfer was made even though jail staff knew he had a history of suicide attempts by water intoxication when left alone.
  • Omar Moreno Arroyo choked to death on his facemask because jail staff and contractors failed to adequately monitor him while he was experiencing a mental health crisis and under the influence of methamphetamine.
  • Rafael Hernandez hanged himself in a mental health unit while awaiting trial for almost a year.
  • Jerry Aleman, Saxon Rodriguez, Ronaldino Estrada and Jonathan Whitlock died by overdose of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is widely available inside county jails.
  • Ivan Ortiz committed suicide with a plastic bag erroneously provided to him. He was left unmonitored despite having tried to hang himself earlier in the day and telling jail staff that he was hearing voices telling him to kill himself.

The case is necessary because calls for change in the jail system have gone ignored by the sheriff for years. In 2018, Disability Rights California released a report highlighting the factors that contribute to the high suicide rate in San Diego County jails. These factors include over-incarceration of people with mental health needs, failure to provide adequate mental health treatment, overuse of solitary confinement, and lack of meaningful, independent jail oversight.

On May 2, 2022, Plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction and class certification. The motion addresses the need for urgent relief right now to save lives, as the rest of the case continues. It follows a scathing state audit released in February, The audit states that the high death rate “raises concerns about underlying systemic issues with the Sheriff’s Department’s policies and practices.”

The motion asks the court to order a series of remedies focusing on: (1) preventing drug overdoses; (2) ensuring timely and adequate safety checks for people in solitary confinement; (3) requiring the Jail to fix broken emergency intercoms and video cameras, and ensuring that Jail staff timely respond to emergencies; (5) prioritizing mental health clinicians’ housing placement recommendations over those of custody staff so that people with mental illness are put in cells that are safe for them; (6) providing mental health care in confidential settings for people with mental illness; and (7) providing safe and accessible housing and programming to people with mobility disabilities, including those in wheelchairs.


PRESS RELEASE: Civil Rights Lawyers Ask Court to Urgently Address Dangerous, Deadly Conditions in San Diego County Jails | ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties





2nd Amended Complaint

Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Class Certification



Date filed

May 2, 2022




Hon. Anthony J. Battaglia



Case number