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Nov. 27, 2021

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King County jail pays $2 million to partially settle suit over woman who died in custody

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SEATTLE — Attorneys for the family of a 43-year-old mother of five who died after being booked into the South County Correctional Entity in Des Moines in 2018 while suffering from a mental-health crisis say the jail has agreed to settled a portion of a lawsuit for $2 million.

Seattle attorney Nathan Bingham said the partial settlement allowed the correctional facility, commonly known as SCORE, to dismiss as defendants 10 employees at the jail the lawsuit alleged were negligent or otherwise responsible for the death of Damaris Rodriquez, who was booked into the facility by King County sheriff’s deputies on Dec. 30, 2018, after her husband called 911 for help.

The money will be used to set up trusts for the couples’ five children, four of whom were under the age of 18 when she died.

The settlement leaves several claims against SCORE and its for-profit health care provider, Birmingham, Alabama-based Naphcare, intact after a federal judge rejected motions to dismiss them, and they appear headed to trial, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.

The wrongful-death and civil-rights lawsuit filed on behalf of her husband, Reynaldo Gil, and their five children alleges that Rodriquez spent four “torturous” days naked in a holding cell, suffering from hallucinations and guzzling immense amounts of water, only to throw it up again.

In response, the lawsuit alleges, corrections officials “covered the window of her cell so they did not need to look at her, put towels in front of the door so her vomit would not leak into the hallway, and then ignored her,” according to a complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Court documents indicate that Naphcare and SCORE officials are blaming one another for her treatment and death. In denying Naphcare’s motion to dismiss several of its employees from the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez found, “There is substantial evidence for the jury to find that each of these Defendants disregarded known or obvious risks to Ms. Rodriguez’s health.”

Messages left with attorneys for SCORE were not immediately returned.

Portland attorney Heidi Mandt, representing Naphcare, declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

The lawsuit, filed in 2019, claims SCORE and Naphcare are liable for negligence, excessive force, assault and violations of Rodriguez’s Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment through denial of medical care. The lawsuit alleges the defendants were “indifferent and ineffectual” in their attempts to monitor Rodriguez’s condition.

“There were numerous entries on welfare check logs that corrections officers signed off on even though they never occurred,” the lawsuit alleges. “For example, a corrections officer initialed a log entry claiming that Damaris was offered and refused water almost an hour after she had stopped breathing.”

Bingham, the family’s attorney, said the family has obtained video that details virtually every minute of Rodriquez’s ordeal, from booking to her last breath, naked on the floor of an isolation cell the night of Jan. 3.

While King County is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, the family says the Sheriff’s Office’s pivotal decision to arrest Rodriguez led directly to her death. According to the complaint, her husband had called 911 after his wife began acting “confused, abnormally confrontational and hallucinating” and asked that she receive medical help.

The court documents indicate that she had a history of bipolar disorder that was exacerbated by an emerging metabolic problem that led her to drink water compulsively.

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