Troubling cases involving California inmates: Water intoxication death, brutal stabbing

California inmates reach through cell bars
California has an incarceration rate of 549 per 100,000 people, according to The Prison Policy Initiative.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Dec. 16. I’m Justin Ray.

California prides itself on being a progressive state.

For instance, the state intends to support women who want to obtain an abortion, should Roe v. Wade get overturned next year. Also, Gov. Gavin Newson wants to use the evil genius legal structure of the Texas abortion ban to restrict assault weapons.

However, when it comes to incarceration, the state is not living up to its professed ideals. California has an incarceration rate of 549 per 100,000 people, according to The Prison Policy Initiative. That figure includes people in prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities. Each year, at least 368,000 different people are booked into local jails in the state.

I want to bring up this issue because I have heard about three troubling cases involving inmates that deserve attention:

Inmate dies from drinking too much water


Lester Daniel Marroquin was in San Diego’s Central Jail for nearly six months, according to an autopsy report viewed by The San Diego Union-Tribune. During that time, he attempted suicide multiple times by submersing his head underwater in a cell toilet or by hitting his head against the cell wall.

In May, he died by suicide when he consumed too much water. The medical examiner determined that Marroquin died from acute water intoxication, meaning he had intentionally consumed enough water to cause the sodium in his bloodstream to drop to a lethal level. Marroquin is the third person in the last decade to die from water intoxication in a San Diego jail.

“We continue to evaluate additional strategies to maintain safe jails. The Sheriff’s Department is committed to the safety, security, health and well-being of people in our custody,” a department spokesperson told The Times.

Guards didn’t stop inmate slaying, lawsuit claims

A Sacramento-area inmate was allegedly stabbed to death by three other inmates, according to The Sacramento Bee

A lawsuit over the death of Luis Giovanny Aguilar, 29, says guards at California State Prison, Sacramento, were complicit in the slaying and allowed the attackers to make a “practice run” the week prior,” according to the Bee.


The lawsuit alleges that Aguilar was “brutally stabbed” while “he was handcuffed to the chair unable to run or escape the danger,” The Bee reported. The lawsuit was filed by the dead inmate’s mother, and names the prison, Warden Jeff Lynch and other unnamed guards as defendants.

In a statement to The Times, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Dana Simas said: “CDCR is committed to identifying and responding to any potential safety and security issues throughout the Department, including thoroughly reviewing all allegations of staff misconduct and ensuring people are held accountable if allegations about their actions are found to be true. The circumstances surrounding this incident are currently under investigation so further details cannot be discussed.”

Former deputy accused of throwing scalding water on mentally ill inmate

A former Orange County sheriff’s deputy is facing felony charges for allegedly throwing scalding water on a mentally ill jail inmate who allegedly didn’t receive treatment for his burn injuries for more than six hours, Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said in a statement.

Guadalupe Ortiz, 47, is facing felony counts of assault or battery by an officer and battery with serious bodily injury. He was fired recently after 19 years with the sheriff’s department. His attorney has denied the criminal allegations, according to theO.C. Register.

The inmate suffered first- and second-degree burns to his hands, according to the DA’s office.

“As district attorney it is my responsibility to hold sheriff’s deputies and other jail staff accountable when they fail to properly protect those in their care,” Spitzer said in a statement. “And now a deputy is throwing away a 22-year-career for inflicting unnecessary harm on a mentally ill inmate out of frustration.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


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A new newsletter about money management. I make terrible decisions with my money, like paying for two gym memberships and drinking Starbucks despite having coffee at home. If you are like me, you will benefit from a new newsletter called “Totally Worth It.” Over the course of eight weeks, it will cover how to start budgeting and keep at it; how to pay down debt and spend less money; how to save for big things like weddings, trips and houses; and more. Los Angeles Times

The number of people moving to California from other states has dropped significantly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study released Wednesday. The study also found “no evidence of a pronounced exodus” from the state. “The public’s attention has been focused on the so-called ‘CalExodus’ phenomenon, but the reality is that the dramatic drop in ‘CalEntrances’ since the pandemic began has been a bigger driver of recent population changes in the state,” Natalie Holmes, research fellow at the California Policy Lab, said in a statement. Los Angeles Times

The Golden Gate Bridge is seen in this 2020 photo.
(Peter DaSilva/Peter DaSilva/For The Times)


Three companies face federal charges for their roles in causing the October oil spill off Orange County, authorities said Wednesday. A federal grand jury accused Amplify Energy Corp. and two subsidiary firms, Beta Operating Co. and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Co., of illegally discharging oil from a pipeline they operated off Huntington Beach. The pipeline takes oil from an offshore platform onto shore. The indictment alleges six instances in which the firms were negligent in the spill. They face a misdemeanor count of negligent discharge of oil. Amplify Energy workers both offshore and onshore tried to troubleshoot the leak detection system, which they believed was sending false alarms, company spokeswoman Amy Conway said Wednesday in a statement. Los Angeles Times

One woman helped move the needle on Black vaccination in South L.A. Tsega Habte is an “Eritrean immigrant, pharmacist and concerned community member who channels her curiosity and frenetic energy into things that matter, like global pandemics. It makes her not just an organizer but an especially effective one,” Donovan X. Ramsey writes. Through Kedren Community Health Center in South L.A., Habte helped create a clinic for L.A.’s East African community. What resulted was a community experience that included food, beverages and vaccinations for over 3,000 people. Los Angeles Times

Tsega Habte an Eritrean-American organizer who helped get thousands of Black Angelenos vaccinated.
Tsega Habte an Eritrean-American organizer who helped get thousands of Black Angelenos vaccinated.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

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House bill would hold EDD accountable for backlogs by withholding funding. Through the pandemic, the California Employment Development Department was so understaffed and unprepared that by the fall of 2020 there was a backlog of over a million claims, unpaid, unprocessed, or simply in limbo. However, nobody has been held accountable. Rep. Josh Harder (D-Modesto) wants to change that with a new bill he has introduced in Congress. The bill “says anytime that there are tens of thousands of families in the backlog, EDD has to fix it, or they risk losing their administrative funding,” Harder says. KCRA

Mayor London Breed launched an emergency police intervention in San Francisco’s crime-ridden Tenderloin neighborhood. Breed didn’t hold back in a press conference about the escalation in policing: “It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it come to an end,” she said. “And it comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement. More aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city.” Three other crime initiatives were announced: securing emergency police funding for needed resources, amending surveillance ordinances so law enforcement can interrupt crime in real time, and disrupting the illegal sales of stolen goods on the street. CBS San Francisco


The truth about retail theft. Organized retail theft has been a hot topic in the state. In June, the issue made headlines due to a viral video of a man’s brazen theft at a San Francisco Walgreens. But it appears that the issue is not as bad as it seems. “There is reason to doubt the problem is anywhere near as large or widespread as they say. The best estimates available put losses at around 7 cents per $100 of sales on average,” Sam Dean writes. Also, numbers tossed out amid the debate are questionable. The president of the California Retailers Assn., told a local paper that in San Francisco and Oakland alone, businesses lose $3.6 billion to organized retail crime each year. “Can that be right? In a word: no,” Dean writes. Los Angeles Times

A security guard watches the entrance to a Louis Vuitton store.
(Ethan Swope/Getty Images)

Marisol García Alcantara, whom an unidentified Border Patrol agent shot in the head in Arizona in June, on Tuesday filed a claim with Customs and Border Protection seeking compensation for the life-altering injuries she says she sustained. The claim is a required step before García Alcantara, represented by San Diego attorney Eugene Iredale, can file a lawsuit in federal court against the agency and the agent who shot her a couple of miles north of the border in Nogales. “I am asking for justice so they don’t keep doing this,” García Alcantara, 37, said in Spanish. “I am also asking for a public apology from the person who did this. I’d like to know why he did this to me since I didn’t do anything to him.” When asked about the claim, CBP, the agency that includes Border Patrol, said its policy is not to comment on pending litigation. San Diego Union-Tribune

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bell hooks, the influential writer, feminist, poet and cultural critic who popularized intersectionality with works such as “Ain’t I a Woman,” “All About Love,” “Bone Black,” “Feminist Theory” and “Communion: The Female Search for Love,” died Wednesday. She was 69. Gloria Jean Watkins, known professionally by her lowercase pen name, died at home in Berea, Ky., after an extended illness, according to a family statement. hooks’ oeuvre included 40 books published in 15 languages, and the author consistently challenged conventional ways of thinking and being while attempting to illuminate the everyday lives of women. She earned a master’s in English at the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate in literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: 57 San Diego: The whole family came out! 60 San Francisco: 54 San Jose: 55 Fresno: Rainy 54 Sacramento: 54


Today’s California memory is from Paul Roberts:

In 1961 our San Pedro scout troop went on several local adventures. We camped in the Portuguese Bend area of Palos Verdes and spent the day in the tide pools collecting abalone that we cooked over a campfire. We took the ferry to Catalina where we had special permission to camp on private land owned by the Wrigley chewing-gum family. We were too excited to sleep, so our leaders took us on a hike – the shadows of the cactus were so distinct and beautiful in the moonlight! One scout snuck off, suddenly appeared in an arch on the hill above us and let out a blood-curdling scream! (The arch was part of Mr. Wrigley’s mausoleum!).


If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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