TEEN’S FAM­ILY FILES LAW­SUIT

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY KRISTIN M. KRAEMER kkrae­mer@tric­i­ty­her­ald.com

Marc A. Moreno’s par­ents are go­ing af­ter a jail’s con­tracted staff for let­ting him de­te­ri­o­rate and go un­treated for over a week.

Five months af­ter Ben­ton County paid out $1.2 mil­lion for the death of a men­tally ill teenager while in cus­tody, his par­ents are go­ing af­ter the jail’s con­tracted men­tal health and med­i­cal staff for al­low­ing him to de­te­ri­o­rate and go un­treated for over a week.

A law­suit has been filed in fed­eral court stat­ing it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the men­tal health so­cial worker, nurs­ing su­per­vi­sor, Lour­des Health and two health­care com­pa­nies to pro­vide con­sti­tu­tion­ally ad­e­quate care to Ben­ton County jail in­mates and de­tainees.

Yet in March 2016, Marc A. Moreno was sub­jected to in­hu­mane con­di­tions in a padded cell and, as a re­sult, “suf­fered ex­treme phys­i­cal pain, se­vere men­tal and emo­tional an­guish, and the loss of his life,” ac­cord­ing to the 26-page com­plaint.

Moreno, 18, died in his jail cell eight days af­ter he was booked.

County Coro­ner John Hansens ruled that Moreno died from an ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat and de­hy­dra­tion as a re­sult of syn­thetic cannabis in his sys­tem.

The law­suit blames his “pro­found de­hy­dra­tion” on pro­longed fluid de­pri­va­tion while con­fined, say­ing staff knew he wasn’t eat­ing or drink­ing but did noth­ing about it. He lost al­most 40 pounds over the week, the com­plaint states.

The suit was filed Oct. 30 in U.S. District Court on be­half of Moreno’s fa­ther, Miguel An­gel Moreno of Pasco, and mother Ali­cia Ma­gaña Mendez of Mex­ico.

It does not give a dol­lar amount, but seeks to both com­pen­sate the par­ents for “the loss of their son’s so­ci­ety and com­pan­ion­ship” and to pun­ish the de­fen­dants.

In ad­di­tion to Lour­des Coun­sel­ing Cen­ter, the de­fen­dants are: Anita Vallee, a men­tal health so­cial worker; Ash­ley Cas­taneda, a regis­tered nurse; Cor­rec­tional Health­care Com­pa­nies based in Colorado; and

IN MARCH 2016, MARC A. MORENO ‘SUF­FERED EX­TREME PHYS­I­CAL PAIN, SE­VERE MEN­TAL AND EMO­TIONAL AN­GUISH, AND THE LOSS OF HIS LIFE,’ AC­CORD­ING TO A COM­PLAINT.

Cor­rect Care So­lu­tions based in Ten­nessee.

The two com­pa­nies merged in July 2014 while Cor­rec­tional Health­care Com­pa­nies was un­der a three-year con­tract with Ben­ton County to hire, train and su­per­vise nurses at the jail, in­clud­ing Cas­taneda.

Vallee worked for Lour­des, which had a con­tract through Greater Columbia Be­hav­ioral Health to pro­vide men­tal health­care ser­vices at the jail, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint.

In May, Marc Moreno’s

fam­ily agreed to end their wrong­ful death law­suit against Ben­ton County and ac­cept a set­tle­ment of­fer for $1.2 mil­lion. The money was paid out of the county risk pool.

Fam­ily lawyer Ge­orge Trejo at the time said they found it grat­i­fy­ing for the county to step up and re­solve the case early. But he added that the fam­ily was still con­sid­er­ing su­ing Lour­des Health and the jail’s health­care provider for be­ing di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for Moreno’s needs.

Moreno’s fam­ily said he sought help at the Ben­tonFranklin Cri­sis Re­sponse Unit in Kennewick on March 3, 2016.

A cri­sis coun­selor had noted that Moreno was “not ori­ented to time or place and was un­able to un­der­stand ba­sic ques­tions,” in ad­di­tion to talk­ing to an­gels and hit­ting him­self in the face, the com­plaint states.

Po­lice were called to take Moreno to a Tri-City hos­pi­tal, but he ended up ar­rested on mis­de­meanor war­rants for driv­ing with a sus­pended li­cense and fail­ing to trans­fer a car ti­tle within 45 days of a pur­chase. He was booked into the county jail.

Then-Sher­iff Steve Keane later ac­knowl­edged that Moreno should not have been taken to the jail in the first place.

Moreno, who was bipo­lar and schiz­o­phrenic, made sui­ci­dal state­ments dur­ing the book­ing process and was placed in a “safety cell.” The padded cell has no bed, toi­let or sink, and its only win­dow is a strip of glass in the cell door with a slid­ing cover.

Vallee tried to in­ter­view Moreno the fol­low­ing morn­ing through the closed cell door, but he “demon­strated ‘bizarre and il­log­i­cal be­hav­iors’ and ev­i­dence of ma­nia and psy­chosis.” The so­cial worker did not try to treat his men­tal health symp­toms or re­fer him to an­other pro­fes­sional, the com­plaint states.

Over the next week, Moreno of­ten was found ly­ing naked on the floor, play­ing with his food and rolling around in his fe­ces. He did not talk with Vallee.

Jail staff re­ported that he was not eat­ing or drink­ing. Vallee and Cas­taneda should have rec­og­nized that he was in the throes of a men­tal health cri­sis and in­ter­vened with im­me­di­ate med­i­cal help, ac­cord­ing to the suit.

On March 10, 2016 — the day be­fore he died — Vallee noted that Moreno had his eyes closed and didn’t re­spond to her at­tempts to com­mu­ni­cate.

She called the Cri­sis Re­sponse Unit to re­port he had ex­tremely poor hy­giene, was de­com­pen­sat­ing and was us­ing his fe­ces to make “sym­bols of an­gels.” Vallee failed to men­tion that Moreno had not in­gested any food or fluids for at least four days and had not been seen by med­i­cal staff, the suit says.

Cas­taneda ob­served Moreno through the win­dow in his door that af­ter­noon, and noted he was naked, face down and singing. She did not take his vi­tal signs, weigh him or get a urine sam­ple, all in vi­o­la­tion of her com­pany’s poli­cies, and she failed to take steps to de­ter­mine the sever­ity of his de­hy­dra­tion, the suit says.

“Cas­taneda left Mr. Moreno alone in his cell, naked, de­tached from re­al­ity, suf­fer­ing from thirst, and dy­ing from the con­se­quences of de­hy­dra­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint. “She did not re­turn.”

Moreno was found dead the fol­low­ing day.

The law­suit quotes Sher­iff Jerry Hatcher, who’d been un­der­sh­er­iff when Moreno died, as re­cently mak­ing the pub­lic state­ment, “There were some sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems with our con­tracted med­i­cal ser­vices.”

Vallee and Cas­taneda acted with de­lib­er­ate in­dif­fer­ence and reck­less dis­re­gard for Moreno’s con­sti­tu­tional rights, ac­cord­ing to the suit, and it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Lour­des and the two health­care com­pa­nies to prop­erly train the jail staff and up­hold their poli­cies.

Ben­ton County Sher­iff's Of­fice

The par­ents of Marc Moreno have filed a fed­eral law­suit against the health­care providers who failed to get help as he de­te­ri­o­rated in the Ben­ton County jail. The teen was found dead in his cell in March 2016, eight days af­ter he was booked in on two mis­de­meanor war­rants. Ben­ton County paid out $1.2 mil­lion over the teen’s death.

Marc A. Moreno

FILE Tri-City Her­ald

The fam­ily of Marc A. Moreno gath­ered in March 2016 on what would have been his 19th birth­day to protest his death days be­fore in the Ben­ton County jail.

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