Justice Denied: Doctor and Nurse Cleared of Manslaughter Charges in Inmate’s Death at San Diego County Jail

Santee, California – The criminal case against a doctor charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of an inmate at the Las Colinas jail was dismissed on Wednesday. Dr. Friederike Von Lintig, 59, had been acquitted by a 9-3 jury vote just days before. The same jury also found nurse Danalee Pascua, 39, not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Dr. Von Lintig was the physician on duty when 24-year-old Elisa Serna died, and Pascua was the last nurse to see her before her death. Serna had collapsed in her cell at the jail’s medical observation unit and passed away shortly after. Prosecutors alleged that both Von Lintig and Pascua failed to provide proper treatment for Serna, who was experiencing symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal. They argued that despite the severity of her condition, Serna could have been saved if she had received appropriate care.

Following the dismissal of the case, Dr. Von Lintig’s defense attorney, Dana Grimes, stated that her client feels “vindicated” by the result. Grimes emphasized that Von Lintig always prioritizes her patients and is a compassionate and caring doctor.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office expressed their disappointment over the jury’s decision and stated that they believed criminal negligence had contributed to Serna’s death. In a statement, they highlighted the importance of safeguarding lives while in the custody and care of the government.

Although the criminal case has been dismissed, Dr. Von Lintig and Pascua still face an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by Serna’s family. The lawsuit also includes San Diego County, former Sheriff Bill Gore, and several jail employees as defendants. Serna’s mother, Paloma Serna, expressed her disappointment that the criminal case is over but emphasized that those responsible for her daughter’s care would be held accountable in the civil case.

Attorneys representing the Serna family stated that the civil case had been put on hold until the conclusion of the criminal case. With the dismissal of the criminal charges, they confirmed that the civil case would now move forward. They intend to hold every individual at the sheriff’s department accountable for their treatment of Elisa Serna, accusing them of negligence and dismissiveness when she was in desperate need of help.

The high rate of deaths at San Diego County jails has drawn significant criticism and scrutiny. A scathing report by the California State Auditor in 2022 cited deficiencies in the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s policies and practices regarding inmate care. Serna’s family is among many others who have filed lawsuits against the county following the death of a loved one in custody.