SAN FRANCISCO, June 2, 2016. Lawyers for the family of Alberto Petrolino today filed a federal civil rights action against the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and an officer of the California Highway Patrol. The complaint is available here: Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights
“This action seeks accountability for the CHP officer’s and San Francisco jail officials’ failure to take Mr. Petrolino to a hospital after his arrest last July for threatening to commit suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge,” said Ernest Galvan of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP. Instead, the CHP took him to the San Francisco County Jail, where he was placed in regular housing, rather than on suicide watch. He was never seen by a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
“Jail suicides are a serious problem that needs to addressed,” Galvan added. Mr. Petrolino was the eighth person to commit suicide in the San Francisco County Jail since 2009, according to data maintained by the California Department of Justice.
Plaintiffs are Alberto’s family – his son Fabio and his minor daughter, his brother and sister, Alex and Angela, and his mother, Andrelina.
“My dad didn’t have to die. We are suing to prevent this from happening to anyone else,” said Alberto’s 22-year-old son Fabio Petrolino. “It’s outrageous that my dad was taken to jail and not to a hospital in the first place, and even worse that he was not put on suicide watch. It should have been obvious that he was at risk.”
Alberto Petrolino was a well-known chef and restauranteur. He owned and operated the popular Hayes Valley restaurant Terra Brazilis in the late 1990s. During the last years of his life, he struggled with alcoholism, and had been through the jail’s detoxification program several times.
On July 25, 2015, the CHP received a call that Alberto was at the Golden Gate Bridge threatening to jump. The CHP found him there, and was preparing to take him to the hospital when the officer decided instead to take Alberto to the jail due to pending misdemeanor warrants. Alberto was held in custody in the San Francisco County Jail for three days. He was neither evaluated nor treated by any doctor. No precautions were taken to keep Alberto from harming himself aside from a brief detox watch.
“I called the jail and told them my brother was suicidal,” said Angela Petrolino, Alberto’s surviving sister. “My mom even went to the jail and spoke with a deputy on the night Alberto was arrested. It is terrible that they don’t care about keeping people safe when they know of the risk.”
After appearing in court on July 27, 2015, Alberto was held over on a $100,000 bond – an impossible sum for his family to pay – and immediately became despondent. His mother was in the courtroom that day; the last day she saw her son alive. As Alberto left the courtroom, she could see that he was not the same. On July 28, 2015, Alberto was found dead in a shower stall by another inmate who could see Alberto’s dangling toes were not touching the floor. The medical examiner concluded that Alberto committed suicide by hanging himself from a door hinge with a long piece of cloth torn from a bedsheet tied around his neck.
“San Francisco has a responsibility to do better. People who are in distress do not deserve to be imprisoned, abandoned, neglected, and left to die,” said Jeffrey Bornstein, also of Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP. Yet that is what happened to Alberto. “The family hopes that this action will cause the San Francisco County Jail and the California Highway Patrol to improve existing policies and procedures to care for people who are potentially at risk for harming themselves,” said Bornstein.
Ernest Galvan and Jeffrey Bornstein, 415-433-6830