San Diego jail nurse charged in death of inmate who hit head in cell

A nurse in a San Diego jail is being charged with involuntary manslaughter after she allegedly left a 24-year-old inmate alone and dying from a head injury in her cell during a seizure in November 2019.

The inmate, Elisa Serna, was suffering from withdrawal symptoms from heroin and seizure-like 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 was found dead in the same position, and rigor mortis had already begun to set in when paramedics arrived an hour later, the report said. Her cause of death was determined to be “complications of chronic polysubstance abuse” with “early intrauterine pregnancy” as a contributing factor. 

Pascua was charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, punishable by up to four years in prison. She was also suspended without pay Thursday, “pending the outcome of a formal disciplinary decision,” the San Diego Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. 

“This was based on sustained findings of misconduct following a Sheriff’s Department Internal Affairs investigation. We support the District Attorney’s decision to file charges in this case and hope this development will bring some comfort to Ms. Serna’s family,” the statement reads.

According to the sheriff’s department, Pascua has not had contact with patients since the day after Serna’s death. Pascua was hired in 2017.

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