Philip Garcia, 51, pleaded for someone to help him. At the time, the inmate was in California’s Riverside University Health System Medical Center. The facility treats county jail inmates suffering from serious issues, including psychiatric crisis.
That is precisely what Garcia was going through on the night of March 23, 2017. According to an investigative report in ProPublica, rather than helping a man in a psychiatric crisis, jail guards beat and cruelly restrained him.
When he was pleading for someone to help him, Garcia was naked except for a hood over his head and what was left of his pants, now hanging off his ankles. His ankles and wrists were tied to the hospital gurney. He had been there so long, as a bed was unavailable, that his skin tore underneath the restraining straps.
When he finally got a hospital bed, eight Riverside County sheriff’s deputies, complete with body armor and helmets, moved Garcia from the gurney to the bed. The episode was recorded on video, and shows one deputy placing a large plastic shield on Garcia’s head while others lifted him off the gurney and onto the bed. The deputy holding the shield put even more pressure on it, until he was told to remove his body weight from the task.
As he was again being restrained, Garcia began moaning beneath the plastic shield. He was soon bleeding through his hood. A few hours later, he died. The cause of his death was rhabdomyolysis, which breaks down the body’s muscle tissue.
While an emergency room doctor had diagnosed him with this condition earlier that day, Garcia did not receive treatment for rhabdomyolysis or his psychosis.
Arrested the Previous Night
Garcia was arrested the previous evening on charges of “suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, battery, vandalism, and resisting arrest.” A family friend later said Garcia had a history of mental illness, along with seizures, and received inconsistent treatment for his disorders.
Once he arrived at the county jail, he was quickly put into isolation as he started yelling irrational comments and refused to follow orders. As his mental state continued to decline, he was restrained and taken to the hospital.
For 44 hours, as recorded on video and surveillance cameras, Garcia was beaten, and his head and limbs, already restrained, were twisted and shoved by deputies. Once he was dead, these deputies tried to cover up their actions by making false statements and falsifying jail logs.
Garcia’s death was deemed a homicide by the county coroner’s office. Run by the sheriff’s department, the coroner’s office conducted an investigation, but no one was charged in Garcia’s death.
Family Files Lawsuit
Garcia’s family filed a lawsuit not long after his demise. They settled the case not long ago for $1 million, but Riverside County admitted no wrongdoing. As part of the settlement agreement, the family could not comment publicly on the case, and did not respond to ProPublica reporters during their investigation.
Inmates and Mental Health Issues
While Garcia’s situation was tragic, it was not unusual. Approximately one-quarter of jail inmates suffer from serious psychological distress. By comparison, only about 5 percent of the regular, non-inmate population meets the criteria for this condition.
One doctor who watched the video footage of Garcia said he saw a “confused, disoriented individual” incapable of making sense of his environment. He adds that what should have happened in Garcia’s situation was the use of less restrictive restraint methods, since the type used on Garcia were often “extremely traumatizing.”
If you or a loved one suffered death or catastrophic injuries at the hands of prison guards or jail staff, you may be entitled to damages. Visit our inmate abuse information page for more details. Ready to see if you have a case? CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.