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Wasn’t The Jail’s Fault

A $25 million lawsuit, brought by the son of a Mendocino County Jail inmate who was found dead in his cell in 2014, was rejected by a US District Court judge earlier this month.

The inmate’s son, a minor, acting through another family member, had been requesting a jury trial in federal court against defendants Mendocino County, the city of Fort Bragg and two Fort Bragg Police Department officers, alleging nine causes of action after Shane Allen Murphy, 36, of Cleone, died in his cell at the county jail in October 2014, as a result of suicide by hanging.

Among the nine allegations in the suit, Murphy’s son had been seeking wrongful death, failure to provide adequate health care and the failure of the county to adequately train its jail staff.

Along with the $25 million in damages, the suit also sought funeral and burial costs, declaratory relief as determined by the court, which could have included revision of policies related to the handling and restraining of prisoners with mental health conditions at the jail; suicide prevention, “ensuring that medical and custody staffing levels are maintained at constitutional standards, and ensuring that sufficient and effective supervision and oversight over jail operations are in place.”

In a decision by US Magistrate Judge Nandor J. Vadas, Northern District of California — Eureka on March 1, the case was dismissed in part because the lawsuit didn’t show why Murphy’s son was entitled to the relief he was requesting, based on the facts provided.

Murphy was approached by FBPD officers on the morning of Oct. 6, 2014, at the parking lot of the Pomo Bluffs Park near Highway 1 on the Fort Bragg coast.

The FBPD said at the time it had received calls of a report of a reckless driver passing vehicles on the right shoulder, who officers suspected to be Murphy.

Officers said Murphy exhibited signs of being under the influence of a controlled substance, at which time he allegedly told them he had taken Dianabol, an anabolic steroid.

Murphy mugshot 7 October, 2014
Shane Murphy (7 October 2014)

A .32 caliber semi-automatic pistol was recovered from Murphy’s vehicle, according to an FBPD news release, and he was arrested on suspicion of possession of a concealed firearm, and being under the influence of a controlled substance while in possession of a loaded, operable firearm.

A “large quantity of money” was also recovered from Murphy’s glove box, according to police.

The Mendocino County Major Crimes Task Force was then called, which led to search warrants being served at residences connected to Murphy in Cleone and Fort Bragg.

Indoor marijuana grows were located at the residences, according to the FBPD news release. Seventy-two plants were seized from the Cleone residence and 25 plants from the Fort Bragg residence, police said.

According to the filed complaint by Murphy’s son, at the time of his arrest on Oct. 6, 2014, the defendants named knew that Murphy was suicidal and in need of medical care.

The son stated Murphy had a history of mental health conditions, including, but not limited to, anxiety, panic attacks and depression, and prior to his arrest had apparently been under the care of a doctor for such conditions and had been prescribed medications.

Murphy’s son’s claim also stated that his father had not been provided with adequate medical and psychiatric care upon arrest and while in the county jail, making the defendants involved “negligent and liable for the incident, injuries and damages.”

The Murphy family now has the opportunity to file an amended complaint.

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