Suicide Of 21-Year-Old Inmate At Riverside County Jail Sparks Lawsuit

Toni McAllister

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — The parents of a 21-year-old San Jacinto woman — who died by suicide inside a Riverside County jail cell — say the sheriff and some of his subordinates deliberately disregarded the safety of their daughter.

According to a Dec. 31 wrongful death lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside by Matthew Upton and Nichole Thompson, their child Alicia Upton hung herself with a bedsheet on April 28, 2022, at Riverside’s Robert Presley Detention Center despite many warning signs that she was “acutely suicidal.”

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco declined to provide a comment citing pending litigation, but in a Jan. 2 interview with The Press-Enterprise he characterized the complaint as a money grab.

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“We’re still in the same place where there’s no personal accountability for anything — just sue the person with the deepest pockets,” he told the newspaper.

Alicia Upton was booked into Banning’s Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility on April 19, 2022, on suspicion of making criminal threats against a woman. While in custody, she completed a preliminary medical and psychological screening, telling a deputy, “I always kinda wanted to die,” according to the lawsuit.

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Upton “continued to engage in suicidal behavior” during her incarceration and was subsequently moved to the Riverside jail where on April 21, 2022, she was placed in a safety cell designed to protect at-risk inmates. She had “20 visible cut marks on her left arm” and her mental health rating was classified as “severe,” the lawsuit alleges.

Despite signs that Upton was suicidal and engaged in self-harming, she was taken out of the safety cell on April 24, 2022, and moved into a cell “known to pose risk of death [and] injury to suicidal inmates by virtue of the hazards contained in the cell,” according to the complaint. “These hazards included bed sheets which were known to be used as ligatures by suicidal inmates and attachment points for hanging such as the corners of the bunk beds.”

There was no designation regarding Upton’s medical condition, which could have alerted those in charge of her housing area, the complaint alleges.

Instead, inside her cell on the night of April 28, 2022, Upton created a noose from her bedsheets. Four minutes later at approximately 8:18 p.m., she tied the sheets around the cell’s upper bunk bed and began “the process of asphyxiating herself through strangulation,” according to the complaint.

She was pronounced dead at 9:12 p.m. on April 28.

It’s not clear what brought Upton to Riverside County. She grew up in West Virginia and enjoyed dancing, fishing, hiking, camping, swimming and horses, according to the complaint.

“Alicia was known for her great sense of humor and infectious laugh, which is described by her mother as the ‘most adorable little giggle,” the complaint states. “One of her mother’s most cherished memories of Alicia are the times that they would gaze at the moon together, whether it be in person or on the phone. It was comforting that despite how far away they were from one another, they could always gaze at the moon at the same time. Seeing the moon now makes her mother cry sometimes.”

Upton’s death was followed by a Feb. 23, 2023, statement from California Attorney General Rob Bonta in which he announced his Department of Justice had launched a formal investigation into “concerning levels of in-custody deaths and allegations of misconduct” within the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

The state probe seeks to determine whether the sheriff’s department “has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing amid deeply concerning allegations relating to conditions of confinement in its jail facilities, excessive force, and other misconduct,” according to Bonta’s announcement.

In response to the state investigation, Sheriff Bianco released a video statement. He called the patterns-and-practices probe a “political stunt” out of Sacramento.

“This investigation is based on nothing but false and misleading statements and straight-out lies from activists, including their attorneys,” Bianco said. “This [investigation] will prove to be a complete waste of time and resources.”

Upton’s death was one of 18 in-custody deaths within Riverside County jails during the 2022 calendar year. The fatalities included six overdoses, two homicides (inmate-on-inmate), three suicides, four natural-cause deaths, and three pending. Seven of the deaths occurred at the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta, according to the lawsuit brought by Upton’s parents.

The individuals named in the suit “were repeatedly put on notice of the great dangers which existed within the Riverside County correctional facilities,” the complaint states.

“Despite this long history of complete disregard to inmate safety and protection, each of the individually named defendants in this lawsuit deliberately failed to take even modest actions to prevent in-custody deaths at the Riverside County correctional facilities,” the complaint continues. “Thus, by the time Alicia Upton was taken into custody and placed at the Robert Presley Detention Center, the jail was infested with endemic, ongoing and unabated risks of injury or death to inmates — risks which indeed resulted in Alicia Upton’s death on April 28, 2022.”

More than a half-dozen lawsuits were filed in federal court in 2023 on behalf of inmates who died in Riverside County jails, according to The Press-Enterprise.

In addition to Bianco, defendants named in the current lawsuit include Corrections Assistant Chief Edward Delgado, Corrections Chief Deputy James Krachmer, Corrections Captain Victoria Varisco-Flores, and 10 unnamed county workers defined as “Does” in the complaint.

If you or someone you know is suffering a mental health emergency, call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

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Toni McAllister

2024-01-04 23:29:47 , Lake Elsinore-Wildomar Patch

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