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Lawsuit says Sonoma County Jail staff ignored mentally ill man who killed himself

Top-ranking Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office officials and the company hired to provide medical services to inmates at the Sonoma County Jail failed to protect a mentally ill man who killed himself in their custody last year despite multiple signs that he was suicidal and in need of extra care, a lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this week contends.

Nino Bosco, 30, of Petaluma, was unresponsive when a correctional deputy found him lying on the floor of a booking cell on July 17, 2019, sometime after Bosco forced a bologna sandwich down his own throat, which blocked his windpipe and caused him to choke to death, the lawsuit says.

Hours earlier, Bosco had been rushed to the Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital following a similar attempt to asphyxiate himself using materials provided with his lunch, the lawsuit said.

Bosco, who reported being bipolar and having schizophrenia upon being booked into the facility on June 2, 2019 for violating a restraining order filed by his mother, told detention staff he was still suicidal and having a bad reaction to his medication when he returned to the jail, the lawsuit says.

The Marin County Coroner’s Office ruled Bosco’s death a suicide, said Izaak Schwaiger, one of two attorneys representing Bosco’s mother, Frauka Kozar, in the lawsuit.

“This is a case where we’re saying they were so deliberately indifferent to a known medical need that that indifference proximately caused this man’s death,” Schwaiger said. “It’s shocking. I’m reading the notes of this man going in a downward spiral and no one was there to stop it.”

The lawsuit, filed Monday, named Sonoma County, Sheriff Mark Essick and former jail Capt. Mazen Awad as defendants, as well as California Forensic Medical Group, the company contracted by Sonoma County in 2017 to provide psychiatric services to inmates at the jail.

Dr. Taylor Fithian, president and medical director of the company, which in 2018 joined the Nashville-based Correct Care Solutions to form the company Wellpath, was also named as a defendant.

Representatives for Sonoma County, the Sheriff’s Office and Wellpath each declined to comment about the case because it was pending ligation, they said. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and the Sonoma County County Counsel’s Office hadn’t received a copy of the lawsuit as of Friday morning, they said.

“Losing a loved one is difficult and we send our condolences to Mr. Bosco’s family,” Sonoma County Sheriff spokeswoman Misti Wood said in an email, saying her agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Matt Lillitren, Sonoma County Deputy County Counsel, said the county also could not speak about pending litigation.

Wellpath, where Fithian serves on the board of directors, declined to comment about the lawsuit, company spokeswoman Judy Lilley said in an email.

Awad, who retired from the Sheriff’s Office in March, could not be reached for comment. He was one of three named defendants in a 2015 lawsuit filed against the jail that claimed correctional deputies physically and verbally assaulted several inmates, which resulted in a $1.7 million settlement in 2018.

Collectively, the group is accused of ignoring Bosco’s mental and medical health needs while he was held at the jail, causing his condition to deteriorate “until the point that it became fatal,” the lawsuit says.

Kozar’s lawyers also argued Sonoma County and California Forensic Medical Group knew Bosco had a mental disability but failed to accommodate him while he was held at the jail, which was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Notes from medical staff indicated Bosco repeatedly pleaded to be sent to a hospital or the county’s Crisis Stabilization Unit during the month and a half he was at jail, and that he made several complaints about the medication he was receiving, the lawsuit says.

“I was having an allergic reaction,” Bosco told the jail’s medical staff about his medication the morning he died, according to the lawsuit. “I was having psychosis. I need to be in a better environment. This isn’t helpful for my mental state.”

Bosco, who was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial on June 14, had been booked into the facility after he was arrested by police in front of his mother’s home earlier in June while “having a manic episode,” the lawsuit says.

Kozar, his mother, had reluctantly filed a restraining order against Bosco months prior, when Petaluma police responding to her call for help with Bosco told her the order was the only way they could continue to assist her with her son, according to the lawsuit.

He had been living on the streets and his car, and was parked in front of his mother’s home when Petaluma officers arrested him in June. The suit does not name the Petaluma Police Department.

“I had no choice but to do that,” Kozar said in an interview about filing the restraining order. “I don’t have anyone helping me. Every now and then I needed help when (Bosco) was experiencing psychosis and I called the police.”

She remembered her son as a talented musician who worked out of a recording studio he set up in their Petaluma home, Kozar said. He started playing a keyboard she had bought for herself when he was 5 and learned to play it on his own.

As he got older, he began to experiment with rapping, different music genres and learned how to produce songs. He produced the theme song for the Petaluma Little League team when they went to the World Series in 2012, Kozar said.

“The horrific, horrific pain, it’s been nonstop,” Kozar said of Bosco’s death. “I want to make sure that this is never ever going to happen to someone else’s child.”

An administrative review of Bosco’s death was conducted by internal affairs investigators to determine if employees followed the office’s policies, as is customary for every in-custody death, Wood said via email. That review has not been made public.

The investigation was completed and had been forwarded to the county’s independent law enforcement auditor for review, she added. Karlene Navarro, the county’s law enforcement watchdog, did not respond to a request for comment Friday about her audit of the case.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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