In the middle of the afternoon on January 20, 2015, Mark Pajas Sr. was found face down in his own vomit in his detox jail cell at the Monterey County Jail. He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead at age 56.
Just over four years later, his family was awarded $1.6 million by a jury who determined the county violated Pajas’ constitutional rights by failing to provide him with necessary medical treatment. However, the jury did not find the jail’s medical care provider, the California Forensic Medical Group, liable for Pajas’ death.
Death Within 24 Hours
Medical experts testified that Pajas’ death was due to a heart attack, possibly exacerbated by a history of substance abuse and underlying medical issues due to his addiction. Pajas’ died within 24 hours of entering the Monterey County Jail. He was arrested for driving with a suspended license and allegedly resisted arrest. After his arrest, he was brought to the Natividad Medical Center, where he informed staff he was a heroin addict.
The staff released him to the police with the proviso that he should return to the hospital if he experienced shortness of breath or chest pains. Pajas told jail staff upon his arrival that he was an addict and required help going through withdrawal. He was placed in a detox cell, and jail policy requires checks on such inmates every 15 minutes.
Given that he died from a heart attack, it’s likely he experienced one or both types of symptoms, but jail staff didn’t bother to check on his condition during his brief time in their facility. During the trial, a medical expert testified that if jail protocol had been followed and regular checking is done, it was likely Pajas would have survived.
According to the attorney representing Pajas’ family, jail staff have a terrible record of conducting safety checks, and the lack of adequate checks lead to Pajas’ death. The attorney presented a Monterey County Sheriff’s Office 2014 internal audit at the trial, which showed that jail deputies were not doing checks and also not showing up, but the jail did not act on this information. Even worse, the family was initially informed that Pajas died of an overdose rather than a cardiac event.
A Great Man with a Big Heart
Yes, Pajas was an addict, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a loving husband and father. According to his obituary, “Moto,” as he was known to family and friends, “will forever be remembered for his wonderful stories he loved to tell, his many jokes and the way he made everyone laugh.” Pajas loved dogs and brought his dog with him everywhere. He was also a “die-hard” Raiders fan who loved music, especially oldies.
“Mark deeply loved his family and was special to everyone who knew and loved him. He was a great man with a big heart who will be greatly missed and never forgotten. His memories will forever be treasured by his family and friends,” according to the obituary, which ends with “Long Live Motown!” He left behind a wife and four adult children.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by police officers or in a prison, we can help. We file federal civil rights lawsuits against police officers and law enforcement agencies to expose misconduct, prisoner abuse, and other atrocities. You may also be entitled to financial compensation. CALL US 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn your rights. You can also visit our police misconduct information page to learn more.