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$1 million settlement reached in Yuba County Jail death

UC Berkeley graduate Bertram Hiscock died in the Yuba County Jail after his third attempt at suicide, a lawsuit says. His family agreed to a $1 million settlement.
UC Berkeley graduate Bertram Hiscock died in the Yuba County Jail after his third attempt at suicide, a lawsuit says. His family agreed to a $1 million settlement. Courtesy attorney Lori Rifkin

On his last day in the Yuba County Jail, Bertram Hiscock was seen by guards walking around naked, talking to himself and smearing his own feces through his cell.

By then – Jan. 29, 2017 – Hiscock had been in the jail for 77 days and had made three attempts at suicide, court records say, twice by cramming feces in his mouth.

He also had been found mentally incompetent to stand trial on charges stemming from a bipolar episode he suffered. But Hiscock received only minimal mental health treatment at the jail, court documents say, and later that day was found dead in a rubber “safety cell” after choking on his own feces and urine, an autopsy concluded.

On Tuesday, Lori Rifkin, a lawyer for his family, announced Yuba and Sutter counties had jointly agreed to pay a total of $1 million to settle a federal wrongful death lawsuit.

The settlement agreement comes 10 months after Rifkin filed suit in Sacramento federal court, and two months after Yuba County officials agreed in a separate, decades-old case to make dramatic improvements in how inmates with mental health care issues and suicidal tendencies are treated and screened.

Hiscock, 34, was a UC Berkeley English literature graduate who began to suffer from mental illness after his 2004 graduation.

He was arrested in November 2016 after his mother called for help when he suffered an episode that led him to place her in a chokehold, the lawsuit says. His mother asked that he be taken to a psychiatric hospital for treatment, according to the lawsuit, but he instead was taken to the Yuba County Jail, where his mental state degraded steadily.

The jail is run by the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office and at the time contracted out for mental health services from Sutter-Yuba Behavioral Health.

Rifkin’s office said each county will pay $500,000 to settle the case.

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