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Jail inmate’s death linked to medication

An autopsy has found that the sudden death of a Los Angeles County jail inmate last year was not caused by a deputy’s blow to his head two days prior but may have been linked to drugs the inmate was given for his mental illness.

George Rosales, 18, was found unresponsive in a single-person cell in the medical ward attached to the Twin Towers jail in October. He was pronounced dead a short time later.

Rosales had been punched in the head by a deputy two days earlier after the inmate made a break for an elevator, authorities said.

The death came just as allegations of inmate abuse inside Los Angeles County lockups were receiving intensified scrutiny amid news that the jail system, the nation’s largest, was being investigated by the FBI. At the time, the department’s watchdog said an autopsy was needed to determine if the blow played a role in the death.

The autopsy found that Rosales’ death was caused by an inflamed and hemorrhaging pancreas. His family’s attorney said the inmate did not have a history of pancreatic problems. The coroner’s office could not determine what caused the condition, saying that possibilities include blunt abdominal trauma and the effects of drugs. The report noted that while force was used on Rosales two days prior to his death, “no abdominal impact reportedly occurred during the incident.”

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The inmate was given two medications that, according to the report, are associated with the pancreatic condition that killed him. The coroner also determined that Rosales’ psychosis may have kept the medical staff from being able to detect his symptoms.

But attorney Luis Carrillo, who is representing Rosales’ family in a wrongful-death claim against the county, said the coroner’s office should have placed the blame on the jail’s medical staff rather than the patient. He noted that coroner’s tests found a high level of the drug Olanzapine in the dead inmate’s system — more than is usually prescribed.

“If they were on the job, they should have seen that he was being overdosed,” Carrillo said.

Along with the force used on Rosales by deputies, the report lists other incidents of trauma involving the 18-year-old while he was incarcerated.

A month before his death, he apparently became dizzy and fell, striking his head. About two weeks later, he was doing push-ups, authorities said, “when he again fell and hit his head.” On at least one occasion, authorities said, he was punching the cell walls with his bare fists.

On the day of his death, Rosales was increasingly irrational, according to the coroner’s report. When jailers last checked on him, he was seen drinking water from the toilet. It’s unclear if his odd behavior was spurred by the dehydration that comes with his pancreatic condition. Later, Rosales was found unresponsive and declared dead soon after.

Sheriff’s officials said they expect to close their investigation soon.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

jack.leonard@latimes.com


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