Catholic woman could get $445,000 for unauthorized cremation of slain son

A dozen refrigerated trucks in a parking lot behind a building
A dozen refrigerated trucks are parked at the Los Angeles County coroner’s complex. A Catholic woman from Tijuana sued the county for cremating her slain son without her permission.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

A Tijuana woman who sued Los Angeles County for violating her religious beliefs may receive a $445,000 settlement.

Maria Elvira Cebreros Quintanilla alleged that the county failed to perform its mandatory duties when it did not notify her of her son’s death, then cremated him without her permission. She filed the original complaint in 2020.

Cebreros Quintanilla is a devout Roman Catholic and believes that the bodies of loved ones must be buried in a cemetery near family, the complaint stated.

The Los Angeles County counsel recommended a settlement to the Los Angeles Claims Board earlier this month, citing “risks and uncertainties of litigation.”


The settlement is pending approval by the Board of Supervisors, said Oscar Bustos, the defendants’ attorney. The board has yet to set a date to vote on the recommendation.

Jesus Fabricino Sanchez Cebreros, who was 33 at the time of his death, lived with his mother in Tijuana and often traveled to the United States with a legal visa to visit his young son in San Diego, the lawsuit stated.

According to the suit, Sanchez told his mother in May 2019 that he would be staying with friends in the United States.

Approximately 20 days later, an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer found a black trash bag emitting a foul odor off the 60 Freeway near the 605 interchange. A California Highway Patrol Officer responded to the scene and saw a decomposed hand protruding from the bag.

An investigator from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office ruled the death a homicide resulting from multiple stab wounds.

Cebreros Quintanilla alleged that officials who recovered her son’s identification at the scene — including his ID card from Tijuana and a driver’s license that included his home address and telephone number — falsely reported that he was a 60-year-old Guatemalan with unknown next of kin, even though his mother’s name was identified in a previous report.


The defendants denied all allegations in their response and argued that negligence did not amount to a civil rights violation.

While her son’s body was being examined and cremated by officials in Los Angeles, Cebreros Quintanilla traveled to San Diego and then Los Angeles in search of her missing son. Two months into her probe and social media campaign, she learned her son had died and that his remains were in the custody of the coroner’s office.

“She agonizes over whether she will see him in the afterlife,” the lawsuit stated. “Her despair is debilitating. The emotional and mental pain is unbearable.”