NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Family files lawsuit calling for reform following jail death

Posted at 8:56 PM, Jul 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-31 23:56:33-04

(KGTV) — The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is coming under fire from the family of a man who died in jail.

A newly filed lawsuit describes the conditions Lonnie Rupard faced in the days leading up to his death.

“Lonnie’s cell was soiled with feces. There was also old food that contained insect larvae found in the cell,” the lawsuit stated.

Rupard's son Justino says the alleged details about his father's time behind bars have been hard to cope with.

“It was very difficult to hear because it was so surreal,” Rupard said. “You wouldn't think that something like this could happen to your father."

On March 17, 2022, Lonnie Rupard was found in his bunk at San Diego County's Central Jail unresponsive and not breathing. The 47-year-old father died a short time later.

According to a lawsuit the family filed against the County of San Diego, Sheriff Kelly Martinez, and several others, Lonnie Rupard died from pneumonia, malnutrition, and dehydration.

The lawsuit alleges wrongful death, negligence, and dependent adult neglect among other things.

The lawsuit says Rupard suffered from schizophrenia and was dependent on others for his well-being.

“While in custody at the SDCJ, County employees neglected his schizophrenia and basic care needs despite obvious signs that he was in medical distress requiring medical care,” the lawsuit stated.

"This is a man who needed medication,” said Rupard family attorney Jeremiah Lowe. “He was completely incoherent. He was clearly not able to take care of himself and he was seen in medical distress and yet nobody did anything."

According to the lawsuit, “On March 14, 2022, three days prior to his death, Lonnie was reportedly seen by a court-ordered psychiatrist for examination of mental competency to stand trial.” The lawsuit says the psychiatrist noted Lonnie’s cell was dirty with trash throughout. The toilet was full of excrement and the room was malodorous. There were feces on the floor and food smeared on the walls.”

“This was a pattern of misconduct that happened and nobody was paying attention to this man's life and this man’s well-being,” Lowe said. “This was not one mistake this was a cascade of mistakes that led to this man’s death.”

Attorney Jeremiah Lowe says at the time of Rupard’s autopsy, he weighed 105 pounds.

According to the lawsuit, Rupard lost 60 pounds, or a 36 percent loss of total body weight, since the time of his arrest. That was about three months earlier.

"Just think of how bad those conditions must be that somebody was ultimately dehydrated, malnourished, off of his medications, died in a cell that was covered in feces and food that had larva in it,” Lowe said of the conditions described in the lawsuit. “It’s inhumane."

A spokesman for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department says they can’t comment on pending litigation.

In a statement, the spokesperson wrote in part, “There are currently no updates to this case and the investigation is ongoing. We continue to prioritize the health and well-being of all individuals in our custody and our sympathies are with the family and all those affected by Mr. Rupard's passing.”

The department pointed ABC 10News to previous media information releases that explained that investigators are looking into the circumstances surrounding Lonnie Rupard’s death to determine any violation of department policy and procedure.

The Sheriff’s Department also noted different changes they’ve made to help identify when persons in custody may need additional medical and mental health care.

Those changes don’t go far enough for Rupard’s son Justino.

"Take better care of people who are mentally ill and make sure that another death doesn't happen again,” he said. “We must make the change."

In February of last year, the California State Auditor released a report stating the high rate of deaths in San Diego County's jails compared to other counties raises concerns and suggests that underlying systemic issues with the Sheriff's Department's policies and practices have undermined its ability to ensure the health and safety of the individuals in its custody.

Lonnie Ruaprd died a month after that state audit was released.

He was one of 19 people to die in the Sheriff's Department's custody last year.

A record-setting year for in-custody deaths.

ABC 10News reporter Adam Racusin asked Justino Rupard if the sheriff is listening, what's something he wants her to hear.

“To not forget my dad’s name. To remember what has happened and to make sure it doesn't happen again,” Rupard said.