The mother of a woman who died earlier this year after being found unconscious in a downtown Los Angeles jail has filed a $35-million legal claim against the city, setting the stage for a lawsuit.
Lisa Hines spoke to reporters Tuesday morning outside the jail where her daughter, Wakiesha Wilson, was held, demanding more information about Wilson’s death. She was joined by Carl Douglas, a prominent civil rights attorney who filed the claim on Hines’ behalf.
“We are hopeful that this claim for damages will be the first step for answering the questions of how and why Wakiesha Wilson lost her life far too soon,” Douglas said.
Wilson died at a hospital on the morning of March 27, about an hour after she was found hanging from a piece of cloth tied to a phone cord in her jail cell, according to an autopsy report from the L.A. County coroner’s office. Coroner’s officials deemed her death a suicide.
Wilson’s relatives and local activists have questioned that account, saying the 36-year-old sounded upbeat when she spoke to her mother on the phone earlier that morning. They have also criticized the Los Angeles Police Department for a delay in notifying Wilson’s family, saying they learned Wilson had died only after she didn’t appear in court days later.
Department critics have packed the Police Commission’s weekly meetings, chanting Wilson’s name as they pressed for more details about the events leading up to her death.
The LAPD is investigating, which is standard protocol for all deaths that occur in police custody. The Police Commission will ultimately review the case to determine whether officers followed department rules while Wilson was in custody.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday that the department would present its investigation to the commission “in the near future.”
Officers arrested Wilson shortly before 1 a.m. on March 26 after she allegedly assaulted a patient at a downtown L.A. medical facility, LAPD officials have said. She was booked at the LAPD’s Metropolitan Detention Center on suspicion of felony battery.
Shortly before 8:30 a.m. on March 27, jailers checked Wilson’s cell and discovered she was “unconscious and not breathing,” the LAPD said. Paramedics took her to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead about an hour later.
According to the claim filed this week, Wilson called her mother from jail the day she was booked and then again the next morning, talking about her upcoming court date and saying she looked forward to coming home. She promised to call again later that day to wish her aunt a happy birthday and speak to her 13-year-old son, Douglas said.
The call never came.
Hines went to court two days later, expecting to see her daughter. Days later, she learned from the coroner’s office that her daughter had died, not long after they spoke on the phone.
Hines is “unwilling to accept” the coroner’s determination that her daughter died in a suicide, according to the claim. She believes that Wilson was involved in “some sort of an altercation” with a staff member at the jail that led to her death, according to the document.
Beck said in June that investigators were not aware of any altercation between Wilson and jail personnel.
The claim also accused the city of not properly training jailers or police officers in “detecting the existence of mental or emotional disabilities in detainees whom they interview following their arrest,” saying they should have learned that Wilson “had a history of mental and/or emotional disabilities.”
At the end of Tuesday’s news conference, a group of activists began chanting Wilson’s name.
“Say her name!” the crowd yelled.
Hines locked hands with her family.
“Wakiesha Wilson!” they shouted back.