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Woman sues jail after clawing her eyes out in custody

Posted at 5:44 PM, Mar 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-11 20:56:03-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A college student is suing the San Diego County Sheriff's Deputies from the Las Colinas Detention Facility after she disfigured her face while detained.

The lawsuit stems from May 6, 2019. San Diego State student Tanya Suarez, 23, tried methamphetamine with a new group of friends.

The document states she had psychotic delusions in a gas station parking lot, causing nearby San Diego police officers to arrest her for being under the influence of drugs.

According to the lawsuit, at Las Colinas Detention Facility, while being fingerprinted, she heard another woman screaming about her eyes. That's when Suarez started to claw out her own right eye.
Deputies restrained her on a gurney and cut her acrylic nails leaving them jagged.

The suit claims deputies then placed her in a safety cell unrestrained. Suarez started clawing again at her right eye.

She says the entire time she was screaming and saw a guard standing outside her cell filming her with an iPhone.

Within five minutes she scratched both eyes out.

Documents state it took another 5-10 minutes before deputies entered the cell.

Suarez is now blind and, according to the lawsuit, she was known "to sleep with the lights on because she is afraid of the dark. Now she lives in complete darkness."

The lawsuit states she told nurses she is bipolar and was previously hospitalized for wanting to commit suicide.

Suarez's lawsuit states she is going back to finish her psychology degree at SDSU and is taking classes with the Center for the Blind; adding she wants to help others who suffer from mental illness and drug abuse.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department sent 10News the following statement:

Medical experts and addiction specialists agree, it is challenging to determine what's going on, at first glance, with someone who appears extremely agitated. A person's complete break from reality during a drug-induced psychosis/hallucination/delusion highlights the danger of getting a high from illicit substances. We care about the safety and welfare of people in our custody. Deputies and medical staff take this responsibility very seriously.

Per our policy, inmates who have been assessed for Inmate Safety Program may be temporarily placed in a safety cell when the inmate is actively self-harming or actively assaultive. A safety cell is a single occupancy cell, with padded walls, a padded floor and no mounted hardware (bunk, sink, toilet). It does contain a mounted toilet that is flush with the floor. Safety cells are also equipped with security-type lighting which is inaccessible to the inmate; have a vertical view panel (window) and food pass with lockable shutter.

Safety cells are equipped with a security video camera for the purpose of general surveillance; however, does not take the place of directly observing the inmate. Every inmate in a safety cell is directly observed by sworn staff at random intervals not to exceed 15 minutes between checks. After observing the inmate, the sworn staff member documents their observations (e.g., sleeping, talking, yelling, water offered, etc.) on an observation log.

The Sheriff's Department has always been dedicated in providing a safe and humane environment for those in custody. During the past 18 months, we've added 15 mental health clinicians in our facilities. The department continually evaluates methods to improve services which include mental health. The department ensures that a comprehensive mental health screening is conducted upon admission into custody. Those in need of mental health services are referred to a qualified mental health provider for an assessment. Inmates in need of mental health services are addressed on-site or referred to an appropriate alternative facility.

Tanya Suarez was placed in the safest environment for her condition. She was being closely monitored and provided medical assistance as soon as possible.

We try to anticipate and prepare for every possible self-harm scenario, but Sheriff's personnel could not have predicted such a shocking and unimaginable action.
SD Sheriff's Department