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Mentally ill man who broke neck in jail alleges in suit his rights were violated

January 09, 2008|Lee Romney and Scott Gold | Times Staff Writers

A mentally ill man who broke his neck in a Glenn County jail cell and is now a quadriplegic has filed suit in federal court, alleging jail officials violated his constitutional rights by denying him mental health care and using excessive force to subdue him with Taser guns and pepper spray.

In addition to monetary damages, the lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento by Reynaldo "Reny" Cabral seeks an injunction against the Glenn County Sheriff's Department, the Glenn County Department of Mental Health and others in an attempt to ensure that "persons similarly situated will not suffer violations of their rights from defendants' illegal and unconstitutional policies, customs and practices."

Cabral's story was featured in a Dec. 7 article in The Times that was part of a series highlighting the cracks in an increasingly strained community mental health system.

His suit also names the Butte County Department of Behavioral Health, which had briefly held Cabral in its locked psychiatric facility shortly before his January 2007 arrest in Glenn County, but released him only 10 hours into what legally could have been a 72-hour hold.

Cabral was taken to the facility on the night of Jan. 3, 2007, after a Chico officer found him in a public park, wrapped in Saran wrap and drenched in kerosene. Cabral was prescribed an anti-psychotic medication at the facility before his release.

On Jan. 6, 2007, he tried to choke his then-girlfriend, Torrie Gonzales, and was taken to Glenn County Jail in Willows. Records show that Cabral did not receive mental health care while there. He was subdued by a Taser weapon and pepper spray after he stripped naked and threw body fluids in his cell. He then was placed in an isolation cell, where he rammed his head into a wall and broke his neck.

Jail logs show that Cabral was motionless on his stomach calling for help for nearly nine hours before a jail nurse summoned emergency medical care.

Attorneys representing Glenn County did not respond to requests for comment. Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones had said that his correctional officers are not mental health clinicians.

Jones declined to discuss details of Cabral's case but said that, since the incident, he had installed a security camera in the isolation cell.

Butte County Counsel Bruce Alpert said that he had not yet seen the lawsuit, but that the county maintains that Cabral "received appropriate medical care. We will vigorously defend the lawsuit."

Cabral, 24, is facing trial this spring on three counts of attempted murder in connection with the attack on Gonzales, who had superficial injuries and has said she does not want Cabral prosecuted. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

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lee.romney@latimes.com

scott.gold@latimes.com

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