DA says insufficient evidence found in LAPD inmate death case
City News Service | 7/13/2017, midnight
The District Attorney’s Office has determined there is insufficient evidence to prove that Los Angeles Police Department personnel were criminally liable for the March 2016 death of a woman who authorities say committed suicide in her jail cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
In a 23-page memorandum released Monday on the death of Wakiesha Wilson, prosecutors concluded the LAPD knew the 36-year-old Los Angeles woman had “mental health issues” but “there is insufficient evidence to prove that her suicidal ideations and/or conduct was communicated to them.”
“Based on a totality of the evidence, there is insufficient evidence to prove that a reasonable person would have known that leaving Wilson alone for approximately 33 minutes would result in her death. Wilson’s death was unforeseeable and therefore there is insufficient evidence to prove that LAPD’s failure to act, if any, was the legal ‘cause’ of Wilson’s death,” according to the June 15 memorandum from the District Attorney’s Office.
Wilson, the mother of a 13-year-old son, was found unresponsive and lying on the floor in her cell during a routine check at 8:26 a.m. on March 27, 2016. Two detention officers found her with a long-sleeve shirt wrapped around her neck and secured to the cable of a telephone in the cell, according to the memorandum. She was taken to County-USC Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 9:24 a.m. that day.
Coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter said an autopsy determined Wilson’s death was a suicide by hanging, but Wilson’s family has raised questions about her death, insisting she was not despondent and would not have taken her own life.
The woman’s mother, Lisa Hines, filed a $35 million claim against the city last September as a precursor to a possible lawsuit. The city rejected the claim, but no lawsuit has yet been filed.
Hines told City News Service Monday she is “very disappointed” in the District Attorney’s Office decision not to pursue criminal charges.
“I’m unhappy,” she said. “My heart is broken. ... I wish they would reopen the case.”
Her attorney, Carl Douglas, told City News Service he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision.
“I have been representing families who have been victims of police misconduct for more than 35 years, and I can count on two fingers the time when the District Attorney’s Office has ever filed criminal charges in cases, when I represent families on the civil side,” he said.
He noted that “regrettably, unless there is something that occurs on video, district attorneys nationwide are very reluctant to bring charges against police officers.” Douglas told CNS he remains “undeterred” in his efforts to achieve justice for the family.
In January, the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners ruled that the actions of four officers did not contribute to Wilson’s death, prompting an uproar from supporters of Wilson’s family and others in the audience.
The memorandum from the District Attorney’s Office, which also concluded that Wilson’s death was a suicide, lists six detention officers, a registered nurse and a physician assistant, along with a fellow inmate who was moved out of Wilson’s cell at 7:51 a.m. that day, leaving Wilson alone in the cell for about 30 minutes. The fellow inmate told authorities she was aware that Wilson was acting suicidal, but was uncertain if her cellmate had communicated that over the intercom to jail staff, according to the memorandum. Jail staff have said they did not know she was feeling suicidal, the memo states, adding there was “insufficient evidence to impute that knowledge to the jail staff.”
“Based on a reasonable interpretation of the evidence, the conduct of the jail staff did not amount to disregard for human life so as to create criminal liability for Wilson’s death,” according to the memorandum from the District Attorney’s Office.
Wilson was arrested by LAPD Central Area patrol officers on March 26, 2016, on suspicion of battery for allegedly attacking a female patient at Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center’s emergency room, where she had gone complaining of chest and back pain and asking for a pregnancy test, according to the memorandum. A urine test determined that Wilson was not pregnant.
As part of its investigation, the District Attorney’s Office reviewed 88 1/2 hours of videotape surveillance footage from 28 cameras showing Wilson’s movements throughout the jail, but none of the cameras were positioned inside the cell or at an angle to capture activity directly in the cell, according to the District Attorney’s Office. Another 21 minutes of videotaped footage was inadvertently recorded over and was not retrievable, according to the memorandum.