The family of a former inmate who died in the Pima County jail has filed a federal lawsuit against the county alleging the death of Sylvestre Inzunza, 18, was partially caused by negligence.
On Nov. 8, attorney Paul Gattone filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on behalf of Inzunza’s family against the county, Sheriff Chris Nanos, four corrections officers and NaphCare, Inc., the private correctional health-care company contracted to provide medical services at the detention facility.
Inzunza was found unresponsive in his cell on the morning of Feb. 2. After life-saving measures failed, Inzunza was declared dead at the jail. The Pima County Medical Examiner ruled Inzuna’s death the result of acute fentanyl intoxication.
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The complaint alleges low staffing levels at the jail and lack of adequate medical aid from NaphCare contributed to Inzunza’s death, and that “fentanyl and other illegal drugs consumed by detainees inside the Pima County Adult Detention Center primarily arrived to the facility by way of jail employees and/or jail contractors.”
Inzunza acquired “at least two blue Fentanyl pills” from someone in the jail, the complaint states, and was found unresponsive in his cell on Jan. 28. After he was given nine canisters of Narcan, an opioid overdose treatment, Inzunza was transferred to St. Mary’s Hospital where medical personnel determined he had overdosed on fentanyl. After about 24 hours, he was brought back to the jail and housed in the infirmary.
On Jan. 30, Inzunza was deemed medically stable enough to leave the infirmary and was placed in a detox unit in a cell by himself.
The lawsuit alleges NaphCare staff did not have the appropriate medical personnel in the detox unit housing Inzunza and did not check in on him at regular intervals. The complaint also says Inzunza’s unit was on lockdown the night before he was found dead, and no corrections officers were staffing the unit he was held in for an unknown period of time.
The complaint said the same night Inzunza likely consumed fentanyl, corrections officers were responding to another inmate suspected of overdosing and “did nothing to ensure that detainees housed in nearby cells hadn’t consumed the drug also.”
“After Sylvestre returned from the hospital, jail personnel largely failed to treat Sylvestre as the addicted individual that he was. Consequently, Sylvestre easily obtained fentanyl a second time,” the complaint said. “Officers should have known that he had access to fentanyl a second time: in the same moment when Sylvestre was likely administering to himself a lethal dose of it, corrections officers and medical staff became aware of another detainee in the same pod who had overdosed.”
The counts against defendants include wrongful death, 14th Amendment violations, discrimination on the basis of disability and breach of contract. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages.
Inzunza was the second inmate to die at the jail in 2022. Seven total deaths have been reported at the jail this year, and at least three have been due to fentanyl overdoses.
Last year, the jail reported 10 in-custody deaths that marked a decade-high number of annual deaths at the facility. The deaths have spurred outcry from the public and family of the deceased who have organized several memorial services and protests at the jail.
“(Inzunza) was loved for the way he brought joy, making you smile when you were sad. It’s sad to know that we have a problem in our own county jail that is not being addressed,” Inzunza’s mother, Rosanne Inzunza, said in a news release. “I will never be the same without my son in my life, and I pray for all those who keep losing family in the jail.”
Contact reporter Nicole Ludden at firstname.lastname@example.org