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Inmate found dead in downtown jail identified as Leonel Villaseñor

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Office announced Thursday that Leonel Villaseñor, 31, died in downtown Central Jail on May 4. While Villaseñor’s death was made public on 6 May, his name was not released until his family was informed of his death.

Court records show that Villaseñor, the ninth person to die in San Diego County Jail this year, had a history of schizophrenia dating back at least to 2014, when he was 23 years old.

People with mental illness are disproportionately represented in the prison population and, according to a 2019 study by The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dying Behind Bars, while people diagnosed with mental illness make up about one third of the local prison population, represent about half of all deaths in custody.

The cause of Villaseñor’s death is unknown, pending further examination by the county medical examiner’s office, said Lt. Chris Steffen of the Sheriff’s murder. Steffen said Villaseñor entered the prison at 2:56 p.m. and was found indifferent in a detention cell three hours later, crashed over a wall partition near a toilet.

Attempts to resuscitate him failed and he was pronounced dead shortly before 6:30 p.m.

According to court records, Villaseñor’s criminal record consists largely of convictions for petty theft. Twice, he was found mentally incapable of being tried, which means that a court-appointed psychiatrist judged him to be too mentally ill to help defend him, let alone understand the trial.

In May 2014, a San Diego Supreme Court judge ordered the Sheriff’s Department to transfer Villaseñor to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County for treatment. The judge also ordered that he be inadvertently given medication.

Due to a lack of beds in the hospital, he was only transferred four months later, according to court records. He remained in prison while on duty.

Three weeks after his arrival in Patton, his psychiatrist sent a letter to the court. On October 1, 2014, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and said he had been given Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug, and propranolol, which is used to treat anxiety.

The letter describes Villaseñor as “at high risk of discontinuing his medication in the absence of a court order” and that he “risks serious damage to his physical and mental health if he does not take antipsychotic medication”.

The letter goes on to say that with the right medication, Villaseñor could recover in six months.

Villasenor was found fit to stand trial on December 12, 2014 and returned to San Diego Central Prison.

In August 2018, a psychiatrist again found Villaseñor unable to stand trial and ordered him to be detained at Patton State Hospital for a maximum of three years. Again, a judge ordered him to inadvertently receive medication.

But this time, Villaseñor remained in prison. Because of the waiting list for Patton, the Sheriff’s Department set up a prison-based skills therapy program in 2016. Under the program, Villaseñor would be housed in a unit on the sixth floor of the prison – the floor for people with disabilities. Mental Illness – Medicated and provided with worksheets asking questions such as, “Who is the person in front of the courtroom?”

Court records show that he was found guilty four months later, on December 17, 2018, and pleaded guilty to petty theft and vandalism. But records also show that his public defender felt he would benefit from treatment, not more than imprisonment. In April 2019, a judge chose to put Villaseñor, who was then homeless, on probation for three years with the requirement to enroll in the Center Star Assertive Community Treatment program, which specializes in services for people with severe mental illness and criminal records.

Records show that Villaseñor initially complied with the rules of the program, but within less than a year, his probation period was revoked and he returned to prison. Why this happened is not clear. The available court records only state that Villaseñor denied violating the suspension. He would spend another five months in prison.

From his release in July 2020 until May 4, 2022, when he was last arrested, Villaseñor went in and out of prison at least five times. Court records show that last fall, the ombudsman requested an aptitude test – probably the only way to treat him – but the evaluator found Villasenor fit. The Union-Tribune could not determine the outcome of the case because the court file could not be located.

Neil Besse, a deputy attorney general who was the head of the mental health unit and once represented Villaseñor, described him as “someone who had an avalanche of bad luck and unjustified mistakes in the legal system”.

By “unforced error” he meant times when Villaseñor was not eligible for more intensive treatment because of his criminal record – he had a strike on file since 2011, which barred him from a specialized health court. but also almost entirely committed misdemeanors, which often penetrate the system very quickly to catch someone who needs help.

“The system was so close to holding him back and helping him, but it never succeeded,” he said.

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Inmate found dead in downtown jail identified as Leonel Villaseñor Source link Inmate found dead in downtown jail identified as Leonel Villaseñor

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