Felix Torres' Death in One of Joe Arpaio's Jails Leads to a Lawsuit

The mother of a man who died last year in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Towers Jail has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Felix Martinez-Torres, was 47 years old when he was found unconscious in a cell on October 6, 2013, and he was pronounced dead shortly after being taken to a hospital. A statement released by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office at the time indicated that Torres "had a history of medical issues," and nothing suspicious was found about the circumstances of his death.

The lawsuit alleges Torres died after being denied proper medical care at the jail.

See also: -MCSO Jails Remain Under Supervision; Still Failing to Provide Adequate Care -Inmate Dies in Joe Arpaio's Towers Jail

According to the lawsuit, Torres was on his way to work in Mesa on September 30, 2013, when he was stopped for riding his bicycle against traffic, and arrested on outstanding warrants for driving on a suspended license and failing to appear in court.

During his intake at the jail, he advised medical staff that he took a daily dose of Prilosec for a history of ulcers, yet a few days later, on October 3, medical records show Torres was evaluated for what medical staff noted as "hernia pain," and treated with a pain reliever called Toradol, which comes with specific warnings against using on patients with a history of ulcers.

"Even in persons who do not have a history of ulcers and gastrointestinal issues, the recommended starting dose of Toradol is 10 milligrams," the lawsuit states. "Yet Dr. [Monica] Gaskins ordered Nurse [David] Hesse to give Felix six times the recommended dose of Toradol for those patients who do not have a history of ulcers and gastrointestinal issues."

Torres was hospitalized, diagnosed and treated for a hernia, and discharged with written instructions to return to an emergency room if he had any number of "concerning symptoms."

Torres was evaluated by jail nursing staff later that night, and complained of heartburn, nausea, and pain he described as a level eight out of 10. He was given some acetaminophen and Tums and returned to his cell. On the morning of October 5, he was brought back to the medical clinic, and said he was experiencing "lots" of nausea and vomiting. Again, he was returned to his cell, and not a hospital, according to the lawsuit.

That morning, Torres was sticking his hands out of his cell and hitting them against the cell door, trying to get the guards' attention so he could return to see medical staff.

A detention officer wrote in his operational journal that morning, "Inmate Torres . . . stated he needed to see medical ag[a]in and medical staff refused to see him a second time stating the inmate was fine."

Later that day, shortly before 1 p.m., Torres collapsed in his cell, and was brought to a jail medical clinic for the third time, but not hospitalized.

He was returned to his cell again, and found slumped over, leaning against a wall later that night. He did not have a pulse when he was found, and was declared dead after being transported to a hospital.

The Sheriff's Office deferred to the county for comment, and county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick declined to comment.

The lawsuit names several members of the jail's medical staff, claiming their actions were negligent, but it also names Sheriff Arpaio, claiming he and the county "have a policy, practice, or custom of punishing pretrial detainees, by depriving them of constitutionally required care, and/or ratifying such constitutional deprivations."

The suit mentions Arpaio's public comments that he wanted his jails to be "places of punishment," and also mentions the decades-long lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office, which predates Arpaio's reign, over jail health care. A federal judge ruled this week that the medical care at the jails continues to be inadequate, and required them to remain under court supervision.

Torres' mother seeks unspecified damages in the lawsuit. She's represented by attorney Michael Manning, who's been successful in several lawsuits over deaths in Arpaio's jails.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley