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Mysterious Jailhouse Death Prompts Suit : Courts: Family contends Albert Arzate Hernandez was beaten but admit they have no idea who did it. Officials have said the man apparently suffered a seizure, possibly striking his head on the toilet.


NEWPORT BEACH — The family of a 37-year-old man who died under mysterious circumstances at the Orange County Jail this summer has filed a $10-million wrongful death lawsuit against the county and the Sheriff's Department.

Albert Arzate Hernandez was in custody in the intake and release section of the Central Men's Jail on a narcotics charge when he died July 31. His family said he was beaten to death by someone unknown, although the Sheriff's Department said at the time of the death that Hernandez apparently suffered a seizure.

The lawsuit, filed late last week in Los Angeles federal court on behalf of Hernandez's two young daughters and his mother, accuses the county and the Sheriff's Department of failing to prevent the beating, failing to provide adequate medical treatment and allowing dangerous conditions to exist in the jail.

Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Dan Martini said officials could not comment on the allegations, citing the pending lawsuit. The Orange County district attorney's office is investigating the death, which is standard in any jail death.

Questions over Hernandez's death still bring tears of sadness and anger to the eyes of his two daughters, Reina, 11, and Augi, 9, and their mother, Kim Kirby of Orange.

"I want to know what happened," Kirby said in an interview Monday. "I don't think he deserved to die the way he did."

Hernandez, who worked off and on in landscaping, might have had a heroin addiction and previous problems with the law, but he was not a violent person or a troublemaker, Kirby said. She said she couldn't imagine anyone wanting to hurt the man she said was her "first love" and a devoted father who always had a smile.

"He had trouble, but he wasn't a bad guy," she said. "He wasn't into gangs. He just didn't have a grip on life."

At the time of the death, sheriff's authorities said Hernandez, who had been in custody since June 10, died after suffering an apparent seizure. He was pronounced dead at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana shortly after 8:30 a.m. after his cellmate summoned jail authorities.

Officials said at the time that Hernandez--who was being held on suspicion of possession of a syringe and on warrants and parole violation--apparently suffered a seizure and fell to the floor, possibly striking his head on the toilet. It was the first reported death at the jail this year.

His family members, however, said that they believe he died of injuries from a beating, although they admit they have no idea who may have assaulted him. They allege in the lawsuit that sheriff's authorities have been "uncooperative" in giving them information.

"We're not getting any information," said Peter A. Seidenberg, a Newport Beach attorney representing the family. "That's one of the reasons we wanted to file this lawsuit as quickly as we could."

Family members talked to Hernandez on the phone up to a day before his death. They said he gave no hint of any trouble.

In her last conversation with her father about three days before his death, Augi Hernandez said he was excited about her sister's upcoming birthday and he asked how her mother and grandmother were doing.

Reina Hernandez cried when she recalled her last talk with her father, and remembers fondly the time he took the family to see the movie "Free Willy."

"My sister didn't cry, but he did," she said.

Added Kirby: "He wasn't a fighter."


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