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Before 16-year-old died in custody, staff failed to carry out security checks, review board says

The Civilian Review Board that oversees the San Diego County Probation Department voted Tuesday to uphold findings that staff at Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Center failed to conduct proper security checks the night Alan Arguelles, 16, died of a fentanyl overdose.

Staff were not performing “proof of life” checks every 15 minutes, as required by state regulations and department policy, investigators from the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board found.

“It was impossible that ‘signs of life’ of Alan in his room were observed by probation staff during each security check carried out,” the results state.

Alan was last seen alive at 8:30 p.m. on September 7, 2021, according to his autopsy report.

At 7 a.m. the next day, when staff entered his cell to check on him, he was already dead.

(Courtesy of Brenda Arguelles)

The autopsy report noted that he had “a portable DVD player resting on his chest” and a “large amount of foam” coming out of his mouth – an indication of a fatal overdose.

The review board’s findings stopped short of saying that proper security checks could have saved Alan’s life.

“Probation failed to identify that Alan was in medical distress prior to his death,” the results state. “However, it was unclear whether Alan’s death could have been prevented, even though probation staff identified that Alan had a medical emergency and administered life-saving measures.”

A lawsuit filed last month by Alan’s mother, Brenda Arguelles, notes that the teenager had already overdosed on fentanyl in custody two days before his death, necessitating a visit to the emergency room at the scene.

He was treated and taken back to his room – but no one contacted his mother and he was not closely monitored, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Alan was taken into custody in late May 2021, after being admitted to Rady Children’s Hospital for being under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine.

Alan, who was struggling in school and had been diagnosed with acute post-traumatic stress disorder, told a juvenile psychiatrist he used drugs “to escape symptoms of hopelessness, insomnia, irritability and sadness more often than not,” the lawsuit states. .

Her mother’s lawsuit also argues that staff failed to prevent fentanyl from entering the juvenile hall. His autopsy report notes that he was last seen “leaving cell 404 (of which) the inmate was suspected of selling fentanyl”.

The review board’s findings state that a review of probation service documents revealed that “staff were concerned that illegal substances were present in the facility where Alan was housed, and then carried out searches in the rooms and ‘unity shakedowns’.”

A county probation department spokesperson told the San Diego Union-Tribune last month that aside from the death of Alan Arguelles, there were no other cases of alleged fentanyl use at the facility. of Kearny Mesa in 2020 or 2021.

The review board made no findings against individual probation officers and instead blamed the department for inadequate security checks. The findings also note that of the seven officers assigned to perform security checks that night, three no longer work for the department.

A spokesperson for the agency declined to comment on the review panel’s findings, citing the lawsuit.

Kimberly Trimble, the attorney representing Brenda Arguelles, spoke at Tuesday’s review committee meeting on behalf of the Arguelles family. She thanked council staff for showing “respect, compassion and professionalism” to Brenda during the investigation process.

“During the interview with Brenda, it became clear to us that the investigators cared about the loss of Brenda and were determined to shed some light on what happened to Alan,” Trimble said. “We are very grateful for their recognition of the systematic failures that resulted in the tragic and preventable loss of Alan’s life.”

Trimble told the Union-Tribune that she hoped the probation service would take the council’s findings seriously “and accept responsibility for the systematic failures that led to Alan’s death without requiring Ms Arguelles to spend years in dispute”.

California Daily Newspapers

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