Family files lawsuit against psych facility over son's restraint death

December 19, 2011

The County of Santa Barbara and employees of its Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services are facing charges that they violated a patient’s constitutional rights and contributed to his wrongful death after he perished in a locked county psychiatric facility last year.

On April 29, 2010, Cliff Detty, 46, of Santa Maria, died after spending hours in a restraint that held his limbs and torso down inside the county’s Psychiatric Health Facility at 315 Camino del Remedio in Santa Barbara.

In the last years of his life, Detty, who had paranoid schizophrenia, spent much of his time homeless or in jail. His father, Rich Detty of Santa Maria, repeatedly reached out to mental health officials for help but they told him they couldn’t intervene unless his son sought assistance on his own. Under the law, patients must present a danger to themselves or others, or be deemed gravely disabled, to be taken in for emergency treatment involuntarily.

A year after Detty’s death, a county Coroner’s Office report was issued, calling the death accidental.

But a lawsuit from Rich Detty and his attorney, David Feldman of Santa Monica, takes issue with that conclusion and the pair are asking for a jury trial. A complaint was given to Superior Court Judge Jed Beebe in Santa Maria on Wednesday, listing a total of 10 defendants. (Scroll down the page to read the complaint in its entirety.)

The Santa Barbara County, the Psychiatric Health Facility, then-county medical director Edwin Feliciano and ADMHS director Ann Detrick are included in the suit.

The Psychiatric Health Facility’s on-call physician, Dr. Charles Nicholson, is also listed, as are nurses Reyante Bugay, Moira O’Connor and Alex Romano and psychiatric technicians Erma Gomes and Carol Smith — all of whom were on the night shift when Detty’s death occurred.

The defendants have been served with the lawsuit, and the county has yet to respond to the charges.

The first cause of action listed in the suit is a failure of Detrick, Feliciano, the county and the PHF unit to train and supervise the defendants. Facility staff were trained in 2010 how to use seclusion and restraint through both on-the-job as well as classroom training. According to the complaint, however, Detrick, Feliciano, the county and the Psychiatric Health Facility “failed to train PHF staff that seclusion and restraint may only be used when less restrictive interventions have been determined to be ineffective to protect the patient, a staff member or others from harm.”

Staff failed to properly document the incident, and put Detty at a high risk for bodily harm by placing him in restraints when they knew he had drugs in his system, according to the complaint. The suit also states that Detty’s constitutional rights were violated by being improperly restrained.

A second cause of action states the PHF unit staff on duty that night failed to use professional judgment by not using the least restrictive means of intervention on Detty.

The PHF staff are also facing a third charge, wrongful death.

“(Detty) was harmed as a proximate result of their actions and omissions,” according to the complaint, which adds that he perished at the Psychiatric Health Facility as a result of the lack of proper medical care.

Rich Detty is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the suit, and Feldman said he wanted to refrain from public comment until after the county responds. A dollar figure was not disclosed.

The case will be back in court on Jan. 25.

Source: Lara Cooper, "Family of Man Who Died in County Psychiatric Health Facility Files Wrongful Death Suit," Noozhawk, November 30, 2011.


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