LOS ANGELES — The mother of a woman found unconscious in a jail cell on Easter Sunday who later died has filed a damage claim against the city for $35 million, accusing jailers of “foul play” even though her daughter’s death was ruled a suicide.
“It’s regrettable that the only way this family can get answers is by the filing of this claim,” said Carl E. Douglas, a prominent civil rights attorney who filed the claim on behalf of Lisa Hines. He spoke at a press conference Sept. 20 in front of the L.A. City jail where Wakiesha Wilson was being held when she died.
The 36-year-old Wilson was taken into police custody on March 26, after she allegedly assaulted a patient in a downtown L.A. medical facility.
The following day, Wilson called her mother from jail to wish her a happy Easter. Since March 27 was also her aunt‘s birthday, Wilson promised her mother she would call again later in the day when the family was celebrating.
But the second phone call never came. Police said Wilson was found hanging from a piece of cloth tied to a phone cord minutes after she hung up the phone after speaking with her mother.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding Wilson’s death prevent transparency, Douglas said.
Douglas said that Wilson “lost her life way too soon, leaving behind a mother who grieves every day for her daughter. Leaving an aunt who misses her niece oh so very much.”
A tearful Hines confirmed that sentiment, telling the small crowd in a voice quiet even with a microphone, “I miss my baby. I’ll never get her back.”
According to the suit, Hines believes that her daughter became involved in an altercation with a jailer or police officer related to moving her to a different cell. In June, the LAPD claimed Wilson was properly monitored, based on video footage taken from the jail.
Wilson’s family questioned the account of suicide, citing the fact that she alluded to calling later in the day; however, Wilson did have a “history of mental and/or emotional disabilities,” Douglas said.
The claim accuses the city of failing to properly train jailers and police to detect those conditions and take them into account.
“If Wakiesha Wilson was stricken with cancer and had a medical disability, the city and the jailers would be held responsible to be mindful of that condition,” Douglas said.
In spite of her niece’s troubles, Wilson’s aunt, Sheila Hines Brim, described her as “the kind of person who loved to hug and embrace. She had an outgoing personality.”
Wilson was also a mother herself, leaving behind a 13-year-old son.
Douglas said he was “impressed by the resilience of [Wilson’s] family,” as they have attended the weekly Los Angeles Police Commission meetings seeking answers.
That was no different this week as Lisa Hines and Sheila Hines Brim, joined by a throng of protesters, made their way to the police headquarters following the press conference.
“What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” They shouted, waving a banner emblazoned with Wakiesha’s name.
The LAPD is still investigating whether officers followed protocol while Wilson was in jail.
City Attorney’s Office spokesman Rob Wilcox declined comment other than to say the claim will be reviewed.
Douglas said he expects the city will reject the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, during the 45-day review period.
Douglas said the family has “troubling questions” about Wilson’s death, and the claim was filed to get answers.
The family has been attending Police Commission meetings regularly to obtain information, but has gotten few details about what happened, he said.
“Because they do have these questions … because they refuse to accept the official version that Wakiesha Wilson took her own life, because they talked to her just hours before she supposedly took her own life,” the family resorted to legal means, Douglas said.
“There is an investigation ongoing, and there is some time that it takes for that to evolve,” he said. “Regrettably, the only way the family can get real answers is through a discovery process that is part of a lawsuit to be filed.”
What the family decides to do with what they learn will depend on whether the family is “satisfied that justice is in fact being served,” he said.
Wilson’s aunt was more forthright, saying “we know there was some type of foul play, and we just want to see justice.”
Her niece “wouldn’t have missed calling me to wish me happy birthday,” Brim said.
“No amount of money will ever replace her,” she added. “We would rather have her here with us, where she belongs.”
Brim later spoke even more plainly at the Police Commission meeting, which started not long after the family held the news conference.
Brim pointed to what she said were conflicting accounts by detectives investigating Wilson’s death, indicating there may have been an altercation.
“You all can try to tear down her name — you already killed her,” Brim said. “But I’m not going to let you guys just keep saying suicide. And we know that didn’t happen. There’s too many holes in the story, there’s too many lies.”
Hines told reporters that she is seeking justice, but ultimately, “maybe there won’t be no justice, because I won’t have my baby back.”
Hines said adding to her suffering was her experience trying to locate her daughter after she did not show up for her court hearing.
Jailers told her they did not know her daughter’s whereabouts, Hines said, and when a watch commander finally gave her a phone number, there was no forewarning that it would be to the coroner’s office, only that it would connect her with an investigator.
“If this was your child, and you were looking for her, and somebody gave you a number to call … and when you do call the number, the coroner’s office answers, what would be going on in your body, mind and soul?” she said.
Black Lives Matter activists have rallied around Wilson’s family and pressed for more information about the circumstances surrounding her death during Police Commission meetings. They point to the department’s response to her death as one of the reasons police Chief Charlie Beck should be fired.
City News Service contributed to this report.