A man who self-mutilated himself during a psychotic breakdown in the Men’s Central Jail in 2014 testified Thursday that one of his biggest regrets is knowing he’ll never be able to have even a glimpse of his wife and daughter.
“I can’t see them, I can’t see my daughter smile, I can’t see my wife smile,” said Michael Shabsis, whose lawsuit against Los Angeles County is being tried before a Los Angeles Superior Court jury.
Shabsis said he only has a “vague memory” of his self-mutilation, but that he clearly recalls the aftermath when he awoke in a hospital and realized he could no longer see.
“How can I describe it, it was awful,” the 33-year-old man said.
Shabsis’ lawyers maintain that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies ignored his cries for help in dealing with excruciating right hip pain as he laid undressed in his cell about 3:20 p.m. on Jan. 1, 2014, but attorneys for Los Angeles County argue the deputies did nothing wrong and that Shabsis’ decision to gouge out his eyes had nothing to do with his hip discomfort.
Shabsis said he broke his hip after falling from a bunk bed in his cell.
“My right hip felt like someone dropped a bowling ball on it,” Shabsis said.
Shabsis said he asked a jail nurse for pain pills, but that she never brought them.
Shabsis said he was born in Ukraine and that his family brought him to the United States when he was 4 years-old. He said he lived in West Hollywood and dreamed of being an artist and later a Navy SEAL.
Shabsis said his parents later divorced, but that both were present at the hospital after he injured himself.
Shabsis said he had a mental breakdown when he was a teenager, but learned to play the violin and later became a preschool teacher.
“Everything was going really well,” he said.
In other testimony, psychiatrist Alexander Korchmarev said he interviewed Shabsis many times and also reviewed depositions in the case before reaching his conclusions about the plaintiff’s mental state at the time of his injuries.
“He was a vulnerable, extremely sick person,” Korchmarev said. “He believed himself to be in the bowels of hell.”
Shabsis spent about 30 to 40 minutes manually removing his eyes and was “essentially ignored” by deputies, Korchmarev said.
Asked by plaintiff’s attorney Michael Libman whether he believed Shabsis’ hip pain was a substantial factor in his self-mutilation, Korchmarev replied, “Yes.”
Korchmarev said a positive development arose out of the events when Shabsis and his caretaker fell in love, married and had a daughter who is now 3 years-old.
Shabsis was in jail at the time after being arrested in December 2013 on allegations of elder abuse against his grandfather, according to Libman, who also said his client was never prosecuted.
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, which was prescribed to Shabsis by Cogen.
The settlement terms with Pfizer and Cogen were not divulged.
The jury is tasked with deciding if sheriff’s deputies knew or should have known that Shabsis 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.
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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