Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility
The Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee. Courtesy California Board of State and Community Corrections.

A nurse at the Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the 2019 death of an inmate, prosecutors said Thursday.

Danalee Pascua, 36, is charged in the death of Elisa Serna, of Alpine. She faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

According to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, Serna, 24, was moved to the jail’s Medical Observation Unit on Nov. 11, 2019, after reporting she felt dizzy and nauseous.

The DA’s Office alleges that after she fell in Pascua’s presence, the nurse failed to take Serna’s vitals or move her. Instead, prosecutors say she left Serna on the ground in the cell until about an hour later, when she and deputies returned to begin “futile lifesaving measures.”

In a statement, the sheriff’s department said Pascua was immediately placed on a paid administrative assignment following Serna’s death. She did not have contact with patients.

On Thursday, officials suspended her without pay, a decision “based on sustained findings of misconduct following a Sheriff’s Department Internal Affairs investigation,” the statement read.

The department also said it hopes “this development will bring some comfort to Ms. Serna’s family” while offering “our deepest sympathies” to her loved ones.

County jail records on Thursday did not indicate Pascua was in custody. She is due in an El Cajon courtroom on Nov. 18 for arraignment.

The DA’s Office also said the investigation is ongoing and that a review is continuing into whether there are “other parties who may also be criminally responsible.”

In a statement announcing the charges, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said, “There is nothing more sacred than the sanctity of life and when that life is in the custody and care of government, it must be safeguarded and provided with the appropriate medical care. The evidence in the in-custody death of Elisa Serna demonstrates criminal negligence that contributed to her death. It is a heartbreaking case of failure to safeguard Elisa’s life by those who are charged with that responsibility.”

In a March 2020 press release regarding the death, the sheriff’s department said Serna died from complications of drug abuse, with a contributing factor of early intrauterine pregnancy.

Serna’s death is also the subject of a 2020 federal wrongful death lawsuit filed against the county by Serna’s family.

They allege that jail staff was aware of Serna’s substance abuse and subsequent withdrawal symptoms, but did not provide her with treatment.

Though Serna fainted, had low blood pressure, was vomiting and displaying odd and incoherent behavior, jail staff “ignored the obvious signs of medical distress” and “failed to provide proper medication as Elisa’s condition was worsening,” the complaint alleges.

City News Service