The family of a 43-year-old SeaTac woman who was taken to the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) while suffering a mental health crisis in January 2018 has filed a federal lawsuit alleging correctional and jail health officials ignored symptoms of an “easily diagnosable and treatable” metabolic disorder that caused her to drink so much water over a four-day period that she died.
The wrongful-death and civil-rights lawsuit filed on behalf of the husband and five children of Damaris Rodriguez allege that she 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.
The lawsuit claims SCORE and its for-profit contracted health-care provider, NaphCare of Birmingham, Alabama, 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.”
James Nathan Bingham, one of the Seattle attorneys who filed the lawsuit, said the family has obtained video from SCORE through public disclosure that details virtually every minute from the moment she was brought through SCORE’s entryway the afternoon of Dec. 30 to her last breath, naked on the floor of an isolation cell, the night of Jan. 3.
“What it shows is really inexplicable,” he said.
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, Reynaldo Gil, called 911 after his wife began acting “confused, abnormally confrontational and hallucinating.” The court documents indicate that she had a history of bipolar disorder which was exacerbated by an emerging metabolic problem. The couple have five children, four of whom are under the age of 18.
Gil, who speaks English as a second language, told dispatchers through an interpreter that his wife needed a doctor and that no crime had been committed, according to the lawsuit. However, when deputies arrived before paramedics, the lawsuit alleges they began investigating the possibility of domestic violence and arrested Damaris after “she became agitated and started yelling and making gestures that [one deputy] claims to have perceived as threatening.” She was taken to the ground, handcuffed and transported to SCORE.
During her time there, the lawsuit claims Rodriguez was sick, alternately violent and passive, and hallucinating. After she was booked on Dec. 30, 2017, Rodriguez reportedly did not eat and “barely slept” while held at SCORE, an 800-bed misdemeanor facility in Des Moines operated by seven South King County municipalities. The jail also contracts to hold inmates from dozens of other state, local and federal agencies.
A telephone message left with SCORE Chief of Operations John DiCroce was not immediately returned Monday. An email sent Monday to NaphCare’s corporate communications office in Birmingham did not receive a response.
During her four days at SCORE, the lawsuit alleges Rodriguez “never saw a doctor and was never taken to a hospital,” although it notes that the King County sheriff’s deputies who arrested her wrote in their reports that she needed a mental health evaluation. Moreover, the lawsuit alleges that Rodriguez was never arraigned for her alleged misdemeanor crime, and was never taken to court.
“Starvation and sleep deprivation eventually took their toll and Damaris developed an easily diagnosable and treatable metabolic condition called ketoacidosis,” wrote Bingham in a starkly detailed 51-page complaint. It states that one of the most common symptoms of ketoacidosis is insatiable thirst, and alleges that jail staff knew this.
“Left unchecked, excessive water intake causes fatally low sodium levels,” the lawsuit claims. “Correction officers and medical staff were aware of the dangers of water intoxication. In fact they even discussed and made notes about their concerns that Damaris would experience water intoxication. However, they did not help her.”
Bingham claims that NaphCare and SCORE are “in the business of cut-rate incarceration” that is intended to maximize profits and, according to the lawsuit, “leads to a perverse financial incentive where cost-savings are prioritized over human life.”
“Although ketoacidosis and water intoxication were the physiological mechanisms that shut her body down, the root cause of Daramis’s death was a system that did not care about her,” the lawsuit claims.