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Child of woman who died of overdose in San Diego police custody files lawsuit against city

Aleah Jenkins
Aleah Jenkins
(Figueroa, Teri/photo courtesy Keiala Jenkins)

Aleah Jenkins’ 6-year-old son, through his father, has filed the federal wrongful-death lawsuit against the city, police chief and officers.

Attorneys for the young son of a woman who died of a drug overdose after being taken into San Diego police custody last year have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court.

The suit alleges that officers ignored Aleah Mariah Jenkins’ pleas for medical help until it was too late.

Jenkins, 24, was a passenger in a car that officers stopped because of an expired registration tag on Nov. 27 along La Jolla Village Drive near Interstate 5. She was handcuffed and taken into custody on a drug warrant that actually was issued for her twin sister, the lawsuit says.

She vomited while in the backseat of a patrol car and repeatedly asked for help and for water, eventually screaming and breathing hard, according to the lawsuit. It also alleges that Officer Lawrence Durbin failed to take Jenkins to a hospital or radio for paramedics.

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After a one-hour drive through evening commuter traffic, Durbin reached the downtown police headquarters, where Jenkins fell unconscious in medical distress, the lawsuit says. Medics were called and took Jenkins to a hospital, where she was in a coma for about a week before her death on Dec. 6.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, names Jenkins’ 6-year-old son as plaintiff, identifying him only by his initials. The suit was filed through his father, Jeremy Hillyer. Hillyer and Jenkins were not married, plaintiff’s attorney Dean Aynechi said Friday.

Named as defendants are the city of San Diego, Police Chief David Nisleit and Officers Durbin, Jason Taub and Nicholas Casciola. The lawsuit alleges false arrest, unreasonable search and seizure, failure to summon immediate medical care and negligent wrongful death.

“The [police] policies and customs behind falsely arresting and failing to provide medical attention, negligence and other wrongdoing ... constitute a menace of major proportions to the public,” the lawsuit states.

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Aynechi said Taub and Casciola were on the traffic stop when Jenkins was arrested, but were not with Durbin when he drove her to police headquarters.

The city attorney’s office, which represents the city and employees in lawsuits, emailed a statement about the suit, saying, “We will consult with our client and respond through the courts.”

The plaintiff’s attorney said Jenkins can be heard pleading for help in a police body-camera video released by the district attorney’s office.

“She’s throwing up, crying, can’t even sit up straight,” Aynechi said. “She was intoxicated, but once you take someone into custody, they are under your control. She couldn’t call an ambulance.”

Dist. Atty. Summer Stephan announced in March that no criminal charges would be filed against officers, saying law enforcement personnel “acted reasonably under the circumstances and bear no state criminal liability for their actions.”

At one point in the encounter police called for medics, but canceled when Jenkins reportedly said she had only an upset stomach.

Stephan said Jenkins died of lack of oxygen to the brain and acute methamphetamine toxicity — estimated at more than 17 times a lethal dose.

When the car Jenkins was riding in was stopped, one of the two men with her handed her a bag of drugs to hide, Stephan said. Jenkins was wearing only a long, bulky, hooded sweatshirt over her underwear and medical staff found drugs in her clothing.


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