A nurse at a county jail in California was charged with involuntary manslaughter Thursday after being accused of walking away from a 24-year-old inmate who collapsed in front of her on a cell floor before she died.
Danalee Pascua faces up to four years in prison if convicted of the charge stemming from the Nov. 11, 2019, death of Elisa Serna at the Las Colinas Detention Facility in the San Diego suburb of Santee, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said.
The day before she died, Serna was moved into the jail’s medical observation unit after reporting she felt dizzy and nauseous.
According to prosecutors, Serna passed out in front of Pascua the next day and the nurse did not check her vital signs and instead left her on the floor for about an hour before returning with deputies to begin “futile lifesaving measures.”
The District Attorney’s office said the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department alerted prosecutors to the case after conducting its own internal investigation. The sheriff’s department offered condolences to the family in a statement Thursday.
The District Attorney’s office said the investigation is ongoing and others may be involved.
Pascua is scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 18. The District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to an email asking if Pascua had an attorney yet.
The sheriff’s department initially said Serna died from complications of drug abuse, with a contributing factor of early intrauterine pregnancy.
Her family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the county last year, alleging jail staff knew she had used heroin before she was booked and was vomiting and showing “obvious signs of medical distress,” but did not provide her medical treatment.
“There is nothing more sacred than the sanctity of life and when that life is in the custody and care of government, it must be safeguarded and provided with the appropriate medical care,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said in a statement. “The evidence in the in-custody death of Elisa Serna demonstrates criminal negligence that contributed to her death.”