Sheriff’s deputies could have prevented a man from self-mutilating himself during a psychotic breakdown in the Men’s Central Jail in 2014 had they responded to his screams of pain from a broken hip, one of his attorneys told a jury Tuesday.
Lawyer Michael Libman, on behalf of plaintiff Michael Shabsis, said during opening statements in trial of his client’s lawsuit that Shabsis was lying undressed on the floor of his cell on Jan. 1, 2014, repeatedly calling for help because of his pain.
“His right hip is broken and he, with his fingers, pokes his eyes out,” Libman said.
Libman showed jurors lengthy footage of surveillance video from the jail during the exact moments of the incident, which was too far away from the cameras to be seen clearly. The video showed that jail trustees finally discovered what happened and summoned nurses.
Attorney Rickey Ivie, on behalf of Los Angeles County, told jurors that the deputies on duty did not know Shabsis had hurt his hip. The attorney said the plaintiff told doctors later that he gouged out his eyes because he could not deal with the jail lighting and thought he was in hell, but never mentioned his hip.
Ivie said Shabsis was in jail because of an alleged elder abuse attack on his grandfather.
Shabsis was present during the morning session of the trial.
Prior to trial, Shabsis settled his claims against Pfizer Inc. and Dr. Philip Cogen, who worked at Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. Pfizer makes Chantix, an anti-smoking drug prescribed to Shabsis by Cogen.
The settlement terms with Pfizer and Cogen were not divulged.
Shabsis, now 33, filed his lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in December 2014, alleging that his breakdown occurred “in part or in whole” because of the side effects of Chantix.
The jury is tasked with deciding if sheriff’s deputies knew or should have known that Shabis was in need of medical care after suffering a hip injury before gouging out his eyes. Shabsis’ lawyers contend that if Shabsis was assisted with his hip injury right away, he could have been prevented from mutilating himself later. They also allege his civil rights were violated.
Lawyers for the county maintain there is no evidence of negligence on the part of deputies.
Judge Daniel Murphy previously dismissed former Sheriff Lee Baca as a defendant, saying his presence in the case was “redundant” because Shabsis also is suing Los Angeles County. The judge also dismissed Shabsis’ claims against the University of California Board of Regents.
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