A man who self-mutilated himself during a psychotic breakdown in the Men’s Central Jail in 2014 believed himself to be in the “bowels of hell,” a psychiatrist told a jury Thursday.
Dr. Alexander Korchmarev, who practices in Sherman Oaks, testified on behalf of 33-year-old Michael Shabsis, whose lawsuit against Los Angeles County is being tried before a Los Angeles Superior Court jury. He testified that Shabsis was driven to injuring himself so drastically because of the side effects of his use of the anti-smoking drug Chantix and from pain in a broken hip.
Shabsis’ lawyers maintain sheriff’s deputies ignored his cries for help in dealing with the 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.
In his testimony, Korchmarev said he interviewed Shabsis many times and also reviewed depositions in the case before reaching his conclusions.
“He was a vulnerable, extremely sick person,” Korchmarev said. “He believed himself to be in the bowels of hell.”
Shabisis 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-mutiliation, Korchmarev replied, “Yes.”
Korchmarev said a positive development arose out of the events when Shabsis and his caretaker fell in love and married.
“These things happen,” he said.
Shabsis and his wife have a 3-year-old daughter that Shabsis has never seen, Korchmarev said. Shabsis struggles with himself knowing his ability to earn an income for the family is limited, Korchmarev said.
“He’s blind and he doesn’t feel there is much he can do,” said Korchmarev, who added that he believes the plaintiff’s wife is employed.
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 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.
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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