County settles lawsuit over in-custody dying for $1.35 million

San Diego County and other defendants have agreed to pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the mother of a Mexican citizen who died after sheriff’s deputies in Fallbrook arrested him in 2018, officials at the Consulate General of Mexico in San Diego announced Friday.

Dolores Rosales, of Tijuana, sued the county in federal court in 2019 for allegedly using excessive force when they took her son, Marco Antonio Nápoles-Rosales, 29, into custody Aug. 16, 2018. According to the lawsuit, deputies in Fallbrook used a Taser, their body weight and a wrap-around restraint device to subdue Nápoles-Rosales, whom they suspected of trespassing at a gas station.

He lost consciousness during the arrest and was taken to a hospital where he died the next day.

Carlos González Gutiérrez, Mexican consul general in San Diego, said at a news conference at the consulate building in Little Italy that Nápoles-Rosales’ mother and the consulate felt satisfied with the settlement and pleased that the lawsuit brought the circumstances of his death to the public’s attention.

“May this case remind us all that the excessive use of force is not acceptable under any circumstances,” González Gutiérrez said. “May this case serve also as a reminder that the consulate general of Mexico is here to protect the rights and promote the interests of Mexican nationals in our jurisdiction.”

San Diego County spokesperson Michael Workman referred a request for comment to the chair of the Board of Supervisors, Nathan Fletcher. His office did not respond immediately.

An autopsy determined Nápoles-Rosales died of sudden cardiopulmonary arrest caused by methamphetamine intoxication and exertion during the struggle with deputies. The manner of death was undetermined. A toxicology screen found methamphetamine and amphetamines in his blood when he died.

Jesús Eduardo Arias, an attorney who works with the Mexican consulate in San Diego, represented the family in the lawsuit. He said Dolores Rosales was feeling too overcome with emotion to appear in San Diego for the announcement.

Arias said that Rosales was satisfied with the settlement and that it had brought her some peace of mind and closure. But, the attorney said, Rosales remains devastated by the loss of her child.

“There is no amount of money that can make up for the loss of a son,” he said.

Arias said his client had no plans to seek a court order to recover legal costs and fees from the county on top of the $1.35 million settlement.

The eldest of three children, Nápoles-Rosales was originally from Sonora, Mexico. He came to the US when he was 16. Before he died, he was studying hairdressing in California and worked in El Monte barbershops. He used his income to help support his family in Mexico. He had no criminal record.

After reviewing Nápoles-Rosales’ death, District Attorney Summer Stephan announced that no criminal charges would be filed against the deputies who used force against him.

The county sheriff’s department has been under pressure to reduce in-custody deaths for years and it has paid millions of dollars to plaintiffs in wrongful-death and civil rights lawsuits. The pressure on the department intensified after The San Diego Union-Tribune published a six-month investigation in 2019 that found that the death rate in local jails was much higher than in other large California counties.

Earlier this year, the California state auditor issued a scathing report that found 185 men and women died while they were incarcerated in San Diego County jails between 2006 and 2020. The audit said conditions in San Diego jails were so dangerous that the state Legislature should pass legislation to impose reforms on the department.

The Sheriff’s Department initially rejected several of the state auditor’s findings and methodology, but has since made changes to jail operations and inmate care in an effort to prevent in-custody deaths.

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