News Article Details

Family will receive $1 million for man's death in jail

Appeal-Democrat - 10/31/2018

Oct. 31--The family of a Smartsville man who died while incarcerated in the Yuba County Jail will receive a $1 million settlement from Sutter and Yuba counties.

Bertram Hiscock, 34, died in the jail Jan. 29, 2017, after his mental health rapidly deteriorated and he choked on his own excrement. The suit -- filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in December 2017 -- alleged that Sutter and Yuba counties failed to provide meaningful mental health treatment other than medication and failed to protect him from the risk of serious harm. It also alleged that the defendants severely exacerbated Hiscock's mental illness, "resulting in his unnecessary pain and suffering and, ultimately, his untimely death."

Sutter-Yuba Behavioral Health provided mental health services in the jail at the time of Hiscock's incarceration.

The counties will split the cost -- $500,000 each, according to a press release from the Los Angeles-based attorneys representing Hiscock's family.

In a response to an emailed request for further comment, Lori Rifkin of Hadsell Stormer & Renick only wrote that the counties agreed to settle the lawsuit for $1 million, half to be paid by each county.

Hiscock was arrested Nov. 14, 2016, when he put his mother in a chokehold and began walking with her down the side of the road, according to the lawsuit, which tagged it a bipolar incident -- a mental condition characterized by manic and depressive episodes. Though his mother told police Hiscock was mentally ill and requested he be taken to a hospital, he was arrested and booked into Yuba County Jail, charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment.

From the moment Hiscock was booked into the jail, he made delusional statements and exhibited significant impairment and requested a psychiatric evaluation, according to Appeal-Democrat archives. Despite Hiscock's mental health history, diagnosis and paranoid state, he was solitarily confined and was not prescribed his usual medication until he had been incarcerated for over a month. He didn't receive a full psychological evaluation until Jan. 4, 2017, and was found incompetent to stand trial just three weeks later. He was scheduled for a hearing in early February 2017 to determine his placement in a state mental institution, according to archives.

His diminishing mental status was noted by staff in the days preceding his death: he was pale and sweating, and requested an officer to lightly break his knuckles and realign them. He was moved to an isolated holding cell with observation checks every 30 minutes.

The day before his death, a sergeant struck Hiscock's hand to make him release his grip on the officer's keys, then pepper sprayed him. A nurse determined Hiscock was uninjured, but his responses to questions were fixated on dinosaurs and frogs. He was not evaluated by a psychiatrist. On Jan. 29, 2017, Hiscock was seen walking around his cell naked and making bizarre statements, but he was not checked on every 15 minutes as required, according to the suit. He was found unresponsive midday after choking himself on his own urine and feces.

Hiscock was a UC Berkeley graduate, was a master's degree student in theology, and was an accomplished singer and instrumentalist according to his obituary.

"Bert was consummately intelligent, deeply empathetic, and always brave," his obituary read. "He rejected the mentality and politics of fear, other-ing, and of turning up one's nose at the elemental pleasures of life. He loved his family deeply, and we (how hard it is to use the past tense!) loved him."

Hiscock's brother declined to comment. When asked for comment, Sutter County Counsel Jean Jordan referenced the press release.


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