San Diego County to pay $2.3 million in case of inmate who died after swallowing baggie of meth


San Diego County has agreed to pay $2.3 million to the family of a man who died in San Diego’s Central Jail in 2012 from a drug overdose, the second time in less than two years that taxpayers have funded a multimillion-dollar settlement over an inmate’s death.

The parents of Bernard Victorianne sued the Sheriff’s Department in 2014, claiming that jail staff knew the 28-year-old had swallowed a baggie of methamphetamine and failed to act on obvious signs of medical distress for days.

Both sides agreed on Aug. 2 to settle the case. Later that day, in a closed-session meeting, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the settlement.


The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Julia Yoo and Eugene Iredale, argued that Victorianne’s death was the result of “a systemic failure to investigate incidents of misconduct and deaths in the jail.”

Yoo said the inmate’s parents, Bernard and Zelda Victorianne, agreed to settle the case to avoid the trauma of a prolonged legal battle.

“It’s very difficult and painful for them to have to relive the experience,” she said.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jan Caldwell, in an email, extended the department’s condolences to Victorianne’s family. She said that since his death, the department had taken steps to improve inmate care, including adding experienced medical staff. To address drug abuse, the jails have installed body scanners, and deputies are equipped with Narcan, a medication used to treat overdoses.

“Mr. Victorianne’s death underscores the difficulty law enforcement has in trying to protect inmates and arrestees from causing harm to themselves,” Caldwell wrote.

Victorianne was arrested Sept. 12, 2012, on suspicion of driving under the influence. During the arrest, the lawsuit said, a San Diego officer saw him swallow a baggie of meth and ordered that he be transported to a hospital.

Although an X-ray found nothing in the suspect’s stomach, the lawsuit said, doctors provided jail staff with written instructions to “GET PROMPT MEDICAL ATTENTION” if Victorianne showed signs of overdose — including agitation, anxiety, difficulty breathing and “excess drowsiness or inability to be awakened.”


Victorianne exhibited all of these warning signs, the lawsuit said, at one point screaming that his insides were “on fire” and pleading with a jail nurse to “get it out of me.” Instead, medical staff believed he was suffering a psychotic break. Due to his erratic behavior, he was stripped of his clothing and placed in solitary confinement.

On Sept. 19, 2012, Victorianne was found face-down on the floor of his cell. According to the lawsuit, two deputies entered his cell at 4:30 a.m., but didn’t check to see if he was conscious. Despite a jail policy requiring hourly inmate welfare checks, it wasn’t until 7 a.m. that a deputy entered Victorianne’s cell and found him dead.

Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.