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Family of woman who died in custody calls for changes in San Diego jail system

Elisa Serna died in November 2019.
Elisa Serna
Posted at 6:31 PM, Nov 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 21:32:02-05

SANTEE, Calif. (KGTV) — The family of a woman who died at the Las Colinas Detention Facility is sharing their story for the first time since charges were filed against a jail nurse in connection with the death.

Involuntary manslaughter charges against 36-year-old Danalee Pascua were announced last week in connection with the death of Elisa Serna. Pascua faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

24-year-old Serna died on November 11, 2019. The charges against Pascua come nearly two years after her death. The District Attorney’s office said despite obvious signs of distress, Pascua left her on the floor of her cell. The nurse and deputies returned an hour later, but it was too late.

Serna’s younger sister spoke at the news conference on Tuesday.

“That’s my sister. She’s supposed to be here with me and she was supposed to get married, supposed to live a life. She died so young. She didn’t get to do that. I don’t wish this feeling on [anybody],” said Star, who declined to use her last name.

Community advocates said people like Serna should not be jailed.

“A lot of these cases do not deserve to be in the jails in the first place. If a person is a non-violent individual who has mental health issues, they should not be incarcerated. IF they are non-violent and they have drug abuse problems, they should not be incarcerated. If they non-violent homeless people, they should not be incarcerated,” said Yusef Miller with the Racial Justice Coalition.

In a 2019 news release, the Sheriff’s Department said Serna was in custody for about six days for theft and drug-related charges. The statement said “deputies doing a security check at the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility found an inmate unresponsive in her cell.”

There was no mention of the jail nurse.

“The county medical examiner’s office must investigate circumstances around the death of community members in our jails independently and fully,” said Geneviéve Jones-Wright with Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance.

Following the charges against Pascua, a statement from the Sheriff’s Department said in part they “support the District Attorney’s decision to file charges in this case and hope this development will bring some comfort to Ms. Serna’s family.”

The department did not comment about Tuesday's news conference.

A rally is planned tomorrow at the Hall of Justice in downtown in support of Serna and other families with loved ones in custody.