The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a $1.7 million payout to the daughters of a man who jumped to his death while in custody at Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
Eric Loberg had a history of mental illness, been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and abused crack cocaine, according to board documents. He was arrested and transferred to psychiatric care multiple times during a roughly 14-month period beginning in September 2013.
Loberg was treated at Olive View Medical Center and then various non- county psychiatric facilities, leaving mid-treatment more than once and being brought back, either by police or possibly family members.
Loberg was under a court-ordered conservatorship mandating long-term treatment. Yet when he was last brought to the county’s Inmate Reception Center on Nov. 18, 2014, he denied any history of mental illness or thoughts of suicide, according to the county report.
A nurse handling intake decided he was at low risk for suicide, but recommended placement in high-observation housing.
A psychiatrist who saw Loberg the next day noted that he was in a suicide gown but said he had no signs of mental illness and assessed a low risk of suicide.
The doctor prescribed an antipsychotic medication that Loberg had previously taken and then approved his request to be in a dorm setting.
“During the week he spent in Moderate Observation Housing prior to his death, Mr. Loberg had 20 percent compliance in taking the prescribed medication. He did not have any incidents,” the county reported.
Then Loberg climbed onto a second-story railing, leaned over, fell to the floor below and died of a head injury.
Loberg’s daughters filed a suit alleging that the Sheriff’s Department and Department of Mental Health failed to recognize their father’s suicide risk and take appropriate precautions.
“Pods in the towers had two tiers, with showers located on the second tier. All clients had free access to the stairs. If Mr. Loberg had been assessed to be at risk for jumping, he would have been sent to the Correctional Treatment Center inpatient unit, or if housed in High Observation Housing, he would have required cuffing for any out of cell activity,” the summary stated.
After his suicide, steel mesh barriers were installed to prevent jumping, pursuant to a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice over the need for more inmate protections.
The summary also notes that approximately 150-200 patients refused medication daily.
At the time of Loberg’s death, there was no system for alerting conservators about such refusals, which were emailed to medical staff on a large spreadsheet.
Short staffing meant that intake evaluations had to be prioritized over inmates refusing to take their medication and the prescribing psychiatrist said he was unaware that Loberg wasn’t taking the drug.
However, given the lack of other incidents, the jail’s chief psychiatrist concluded that it was unlikely that Loberg would have been forced to take the medication in any event.
A system is now in place to alert conservators when their charges refuse medication. And new policy states that inmates under conservatorship who refuse medication are to be expedited for referral to medical personnel.
A lawyer for the family said his clients’ father should not have been taken to jail at all.
He told KPCC that Loberg was arrested for violating his probation when he walked out of a private psychiatric hospital where he had been committed for treatment.
“He should have been brought to a mental health facility rather than the county jail, as he committed no crime and he was known to be suffering from schizophrenia,” Ron Kaye told a KPCC reporter.
—City News Service
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