Placentia Police arrested 31-year-old Matthew Shawn Gordon on September 8, 2013 for possession of heroin. Authorities transferred him to Orange County Central Men's Jail later that day. The very next night fellow inmates found him dead in his cell. The circumstances of the in-custody death are currently being investigated by the Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office. Meanwhile, a $15 million lawsuit filed by Gordon's mother alleges that jail staff failed to address and monitor his severe heroin withdrawal symptoms.
The Irvine-based Sehat Law Firm is representing Mary Gordon. The federal civil rights lawsuit filed July 9 names Orange County Sheriff Deputy Sandra Hutchens, Orange County Sheriff's Department, Orange County Central Men's Jail, and the Orange County Health Care Agency are named as defendants.
It alleges that Shawn Gordon informed medical staff at the jail that he was using 3 grams of heroin a day and told sheriff deputies repeatedly that he felt ill. The complaint states that Gordon vomited numerous times. Not even a blood test was performed despite the fact that he couldn't hold down food or drink.
"We believe that Matthew Gordon was not taken care of properly," attorney Cameron Sehat tells the Weekly. "He was, in fact, neglected."
According to the lawsuit, Gordon called a friend on the afternoon of September 9, 2013 and told her, "I'm sick. You need to get me out of here or I am going to die." She posted bail, but by 10 p.m. that night, Gordon laid in his cell unresponsive.
The complaint lists a number of other similar OC inmate deaths including Joel Espinoza, Roberto Oropeza, Cynthia Drury, Keith Files, Marcus Bell, and Gregorio Torres. "The county has had prior custody deaths related to serious medical conditions," Sehat says. "There's a pattern here."
The Weekly's Nick Schou first reported on Files' death back in 2011. The 28-year-old from Mission Viejo used heroin, struggled to stay sober and told his probation officer he had relapsed, assuring his return to OC Central Men's Jail. Files spoke to a friend before going in of his plans to sneak the drug into the jail with him. Flies died 17 hours into custody. An OCDA report the following year concluded methadone overdose as the cause. The agency cleared jail staff of any wrongdoing.
The question of criminal liability in Gordon's case awaits the conclusion of the ongoing investigation. Meanwhile, the civil suit says his death could have been easily prevented by an attentive staff.
"No one in jail should die," Sehat says, "unless it's of natural causes."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2