May 14, 2019
Edward Sifuentes
(619) 501-3408

SAN DIEGO – Today, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties filed a motion asking a federal court to unseal records documenting the death of 46-year-old Ruben Nunez while in a San Diego County jail.

Nunez, who had suffered from severe mental illness, was arrested in March 2014 for allegedly throwing a rock through a window. He was found incompetent to stand trial and committed to a state psychiatric hospital for treatment. While in the hospital, doctors noted that Nunez showed signs of psychogenic polydipsia, a psychiatric condition that made him want to drink dangerously excessive amounts of water.

On Aug. 13, 2015, Nunez died from overconsumption of water while in custody in a county jail awaiting a hearing to reevaluate his status.

“The public has a compelling interest in the transparency of court records and accountability for the failures that led to Mr. Nunez’s untimely death, one of at least 135 deaths in San Diego County jails in the last decade,” said Jonathan Markovitz, a staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “We may never learn what happened in many of those cases and there may never be any accountability for those deaths. This case stands out because lawyers representing Mr. Nunez’s family unearthed documents that address responsibility for his death in excruciating detail. These documents must be made public”

According to a lawsuit filed by Mr. Nunez's family, Correctional Physicians Medical Group (“CPMG”), which then held a contract for mental health care in the county jail, failed to inform jail staff that Nunez should be monitored. Staff held Nunez in a cell without water restrictions and then failed to provide him appropriate medical care. These failures led to his death.

After the family’s lawyers uncovered records documenting CPMG’s repeated failures to protect Mr. Nunez, CPMG asked the court to seal the records. CPMG contends the records should be secret because they are part of the “peer review” process. However, CPMG admits federal law recognizes no “peer review” privilege.

In its brief, the ACLU argues the sealed documents in this case could be used to inform the public about whether the contractors who provide care for pretrial detainees and other inmates are appropriately attentive to the medical needs of people whose fates we place in their hands. The information contained in those documents could help the public to understand whether it can trust our government officials to ensure that a short stay in a county jail does not become a death sentence.

A copy of the brief can be found here: