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Family questions circumstances surrounding death of woman in LAPD jail cell

Family members of a woman who authorities say committed suicide in a Los Angeles jail are raising questions about her death, saying they learned the 36-year-old mother had died only after she didn't appear in court days later.

Wakiesha Wilson died at a hospital on the morning of March 27, about an hour after she was found hanging in her cell, coroner's spokesman Ed Winter said. Los Angeles Police Department records show she was arrested on suspicion of battery shortly before 1 a.m. March 26 and booked into an LAPD jail two hours later.

Wilson was the second person to die in LAPD custody this year, a department spokesman said. Capt. Andy Neiman declined to discuss the details of the case, saying it was still early in the investigation.  

An attorney representing Wilson's family said there were no signs Wilson was distraught when she spoke to relatives on the phone after her arrest and again the following morning, about 90 minutes before her death. She made plans to call them later in the day during their Easter celebration and talk to her 13-year-old son, attorney Jaaye Person-Lynn said.

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When Wilson didn't appear in court for her March 29 hearing, her mother called the jail but didn't receive any information about her daughter, Person-Lynn said.

It wasn't until the next day -- about 76 hours after Wilson died -- that an LAPD supervisor told Wilson's mother to call the coroner's office, the attorney said.

Person-Lynn said Wilson, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had been arrested before. Relatives said they believe her arrest "wouldn't have been the trigger" for her to commit suicide, he said.

The attorney said Wilson's family was just trying to learn what happened in the jail cell.

"We want the facts. If the facts came out that she did this, we will accept that," he said. "The death is tragedy No. 1. The amount of time it took for the family to become aware is tragedy No. 2."

Wilson's death was mentioned at Tuesday's Police Commission meeting, where activists and a woman who said she knew Wilson's sister questioned why it took days to notify the family about her death.

At one point, commission President Matt Johnson wrote down Wilson's name and said he would "look into this." LAPD Asst. Chief Michel Moore said coroner's officials typically handled such notifications, but that the LAPD "worked closely" with them to coordinate.

"We'll be happy to look into this circumstance and understand how that notification was accomplished," Moore said.

"Let me know when you have the information," Johnson said.

After the meeting, Johnson said he thought it was "outrageous that it took so long for the family to be notified."

A spokesman for the coroner's office said the notification was delayed because Wilson was taken from the jail to a hospital, where she died. The hospital didn't tell the coroner's office of the death, Winter said. Instead, an LAPD detective called that afternoon, he said.

Winter said notifying relatives of a death can sometimes take time, depending on how quickly coroner's officials can confirm someone's identify and contact the next of kin. 

"That becomes normal, unfortunately, because of our caseload," he said of the delay. 

The LAPD is investigating Wilson's death, which is standard for all deaths that occur in police custody. After that investigation is completed, the Police Commission will review the case.

A dozen people died in LAPD custody last year, a sharp jump from four in 2014. Police said at least half of the 2015 incidents involved someone who, according to toxicology tests, was under the influence of drugs. One person died in a jailhouse suicide, they said.

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.

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