Nurse acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in 2019 death of a 24-year-old California jail inmate

Feb 9, 2024, 5:48 PM

EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) — A nurse at a California jail was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter Friday in the November 2019 death of an inmate who collapsed in her cell. But jurors deadlocked on charges against a jail doctor.

Danalee Pascua was acquitted in the death of 24-year-old Elisa Serna at the Las Colinas Detention Facility in the San Diego suburb of Santee, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The paper said the Superior Court panel in El Cajon deadlocked 9-3 for the acquittal of Dr. Friederike Von Lintig. Prosecutors didn’t immediately say whether they would retry her on a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Serna, who was five weeks pregnant, was booked into the jail five days before her death. She was suffering from alcohol and drug withdrawals and had told the jail staff that she had used heroin hours before her arrest, prosecutors said.

Serna had vomited and had multiple seizures in the 24 hours before her death, prosecutors said, but when she passed out in front of Pascua, the nurse failed to check her vital signs and left her on the floor of her cell for about an hour before returning with deputies to begin “futile lifesaving measures.”

The medical examiner determined that she died from complications of chronic “polysubstance abuse.”

Pascua’s lawyer, Alicia Freeze, said that the nurse had only come on duty two hours before Serna’s death and wasn’t aware of her serious problems, according to the Union-Tribune.

“Really, no one knew how ill this woman was,” Freeze said.

“We are disappointed that the process resulted in the criminal exoneration of a nurse who watched our unconscious daughter suffer a seizure, who then did nothing to prevent her death,” said a statement from Serna’s family, the Union-Tribune reported.

Serna’s family has sued the county for wrongful death.

“Both sides in the criminal case agreed on one thing: the personnel and the jail system failed abysmally to provide life-saving care to a 24-year-old woman who died needlessly on a jail cell floor,” the statement said. “We will fight for her until this wrong is redressed.”

Von Lintig was accused of failing to properly care for Serna, although the defense said she only saw Serna on the day of her death and another physician had been treating her. Prosecutors said the doctor refused to go to Serna’s cell to check on her after reports that the inmate had suffered a seizure.

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Nurse acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in 2019 death of a 24-year-old California jail inmate