Involuntary Manslaughter is being brought against a San Diego prison nurse after she left an inmate aged 24 alone, and died from the injuries sustained in her cells during a November 2019 seizure.

Elisa Serna was suffering withdrawal symptoms and seizure symptoms. She hit her head against the wall of her cell during an apparent seizure, witnessed by nurse Danalee Pascua and a deputy, and was left on the floor in the position she fell in, according to a San Diego County Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board investigation report. 

Serna died in that same spot. Rigo mortis was already in full swing when paramedics arrived one hour later. As a contributor, her cause of death was “complications due to chronic polysubstance abuse”. 

Pascua was charged in one count of involuntary murder, which can lead to up to four years imprisonment. In a statement, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department announced that she was also placed on administrative leave without pay. 

This was made after a Sheriff’s Department Internal Affairs investigation revealed that there were persistent findings of misconduct. “We support the decision of the District Attorney to bring charges in this matter and we hope that this will provide some comfort for Ms. Serna’s family,” reads the statement.

According to Pascua’s sheriff’s Department, Pascua was not in touch with patients from the day Serna died. Pascua joined the workforce in 2017.

Serna was arrested on Nov. 6, 2019 for theft and drug-related charges and was jailed at the Las Colinas Detention Facility for women in the medical observation unit. She was conscious when she fell on the ground during Nov. 11’s medical emergency. According to Pascua’s report, she did not answer the deputy’s commands and they closed the door.

Two claims of misconduct were found not to be true in the report. It also stated that Pascua was unaware of Pascua’s medical procedure training and therefore she followed Pascua. Pascua failed to respond to Serna’s emergency medical situation, so the deputy “deferred” to the expert medical practitioner. There is no evidence to suggest that the deputy committed any misconduct.

Julia Yoo (the attorney representing Serna’s family) stated that the information in the report of the review board was not available to her family as it is in medical records.

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“I can’t be reading this right,” Yoo told The San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this year, “because according to this, a deputy and nurse left a woman to die on the floor of her cell after witnessing her suffer a seizure.”

“It is absolutely crushing for the family to discover this and to know that the county has been withholding this information from them,” she said.

The family is suing the Jail for not placing Serna on its withdrawal protocol. She did not notify officials she had used heroin in the past, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Her family said that she was struggling with addiction.

San Diego County Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board does not oversee medical staff in San Diego’s jails. Paul Parker, executive officer of the board, stated that this should be changed.

“Without jurisdiction over medical staff, it will continue to be difficult for CLERB to thoroughly investigate deaths and transparently report on deaths occurring in the jails, as sometimes that critical information must be redacted, if even known,” he said.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department had the highest California death rates among the six largest California counties.

“There is nothing more serious than the sanctity of life and when that life is in the custody and care of the government, it must be safeguarded and provided with the appropriate medical care,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said in a statement to The Los Angeles Times.

“The evidence in the in-custody death of Elisa Serna demonstrates criminal negligence that contributed to her death,” Stephan said.


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