Lisa Martinez fell into a coma by the time she finished her jail sentence last summer at Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana. Family members finally visited the 52-year-old Anaheim woman after being freed from custody only to make the difficult decision of ending life-support days later. She had complained of stroke-like symptoms to a deputy on July 5, 2018 before being transferred from Orange County Jail to the hospital the following morning.
Relatives continue to question if jail staff did all they could to properly treat Martinez. “Having your mom go to jail and not come home to you is truly a nightmare,” says Ashly Martinez, Lisa’s 30-year-old daughter. “What is worse is that her passing is still a mystery.”
More than a year later, the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) office completed an investigating finding no criminal negligence by jail staff in the handling of her health during incarceration. But the report released on Friday brings little in the way of closure to the family.
According to the report, Anaheim police first arrested Martinez on June 26, 2018 and found drugs and paraphernalia on her during searches. Authorities transferred her to Orange County Jail where she disclosed having a seizure disorder and symptoms of alcohol abuse. Two days later, Martinez pleaded guilty to the charges against her and began serving a 60-day sentence.
On July 3, 2018, Martinez failed a drug test with results showing meth and benzodiazepines in her system–the latter of which is sometimes used to treat seizure conditions. A doctor followed with a medical examination and determined she displayed alcohol withdrawal symptoms, hypertension and anxiety.
But Martinez’s ill health continued. “Something isn’t right,” Martinez told a deputy two days later, according to her medical records. “I’m retarded or had a stroke or something. I don’t know why else I stutter now. I can’t remember things. They don’t give me that red pill anymore?”
Instead of transferring Martinez to a hospital right away, authorities rehoused and monitored her with a follow up doctor’s appointment scheduled in the morning. The physician concluded she suffered from stroke symptoms at the time and ordered her transfer to OC Global Medical Center for further treatment. There, Martinez told medical staff that she’d been seen the day before after suffering health-related issues, such as gait unsteadiness and body weakness on only her right side, for two weeks.
The OCDA initially received information suggesting that Martinez notified jail staff of her illness during that time frame. “This was in error and not supported by any records,” the report states. “In actuality, the medical records, jail records and statements by the witness indicate that Martinez had the symptoms for possibly two weeks but no one was notified of them until July 5, 2018.”
Investigators spoke to all of one witness, according to the report. It didn’t clarify the source of information stated to be in error.
At the hospital, medical staff confirmed Martinez suffered a stroke. Her health deteriorated from that day. She continued suffering strokes over the course of two weeks until falling into a coma and being declared brain dead.
“Our family wasn’t contacted during this hospitalization until she completed her sentence,” says Brandy Esparza, Lisa’s niece. “By then, it was too late. She had a fatal stroke while in custody in the hospital.”
An autopsy confirmed stroke as the cause of death.
The OCDA admits a delay in evaluating Martinez for stroke symptoms happened, but that it didn’t amount to a legal failure. The agency belabored the point in the report’s legal analysis.
“Again, there is nothing in the evidence to indicate that the medical staff should have known about Martinez’s stroke, nor does it show that they failed in determining she in fact had a stroke,” the report concludes. “Further, there is also nothing to suggest that [Orange County Sheriff’s Department] medical staff knew or should have known about Martinez’s stroke. Further, even if OCSD staff failed to act, there is no evidence showing that such a failure caused the death of Martinez.”
With that, the OCDA declined to press charges and closed its investigation. But that does little to ease questions Martinez’s relatives still have, like how many hours passed between the time she alerted a deputy to her symptoms and the doctor’s evaluation the following morning.
“This tragedy continues to be a mystery to our family,” says Esparza. “There is no closure. If Aunt Lisa was taken to the hospital immediately rather than waiting hours, she would still be alive today.”
For the family, Martinez joins already grim statistics. Last year, an Orange County grand jury report found that 44 percent of jail deaths between 2014 and 2017 could’ve been prevented with timely and adequate access to medical care.
Now, all they’re left with are memories. “She lived her life her way while continuing to be kind,” says Ashly. “Her laugh lit up the room and her personality will not be forgotten. This pain will not go away.”
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!