Central jail in downtown San Diego
The central jail on Front Street in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the mother of a man who died from drinking too much water while in custody at the San Diego Central Jail last year.

Lester Daniel Marroquin’s acute water intoxication death on May 30 was ruled a suicide by the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

According to the lawsuit filed in San Diego federal court against the county and unidentified jail personnel, the 35-year-old over-drank from a toilet in his cell, something jail deputies allegedly should have prevented because Marroquin had repeatedly displayed “a history of mental illness and self-harming behavior” during the six months he’d spent at the jail.

The lawsuit argues he should have been admitted to an inpatient facility to receive psychiatric care or placed in what’s called Enhanced Observation Housing, where inmates are closely monitored to prevent self-harm or suicides.

Representatives from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit alleges that since his December 2020 arrest, Marroquin repeatedly displayed self-harming behavior, such as banging his head against his cell wall, attempting to strangle himself with clothing items, and attempting to drown himself in the toilet.

Though he was placed in a safety cell at least 11 times and in Enhanced Observation Housing at least 17 times throughout his stint in jail, the suit alleges he was never taken to a hospital for inpatient psychiatric care and that jail staff “repeatedly failed to produce Mr. Marroquin for court-ordered psychiatric evaluations and court dates.”

Marroquin had been in a safety cell for two days prior to his death due to “self-harming behavior,” before he was taken out of the cell for unknown reasons on May 30.

“During an hour of unchecked time in his ordinary ad-seg cell, Mr. Marroquin predictably stuck his head into the toilet and began drinking, uncontrollably,” according to the lawsuit.

According to a California State Auditor’s report published earlier this year, 185 people died in San Diego County jails between 2006 and 2020, one of the highest totals in the state. The audit also found that 52 people died in county jails by suicide over the past 15 years, “which is more than twice the number in each of the comparable counties.”

City News Service contributed to this article.