Judge denies state’s motion to dismiss Desiree Diaz case
The family of Desiree Diaz, who died at age 33 in 2018 after spending one night at the York Correctional Institution in East Lyme, has fended off the state’s effort to dismiss its medical malpractice lawsuit.
Judge Steven Jacobs denied the motion by the state attorney general’s office to dismiss the case on Sept. 16.
Diaz’s mother, Katherine Lindsay, is represented by civil rights attorney Ken Krayeske of Hartford and co-counsel DeVaughn Ward also of Hartford.
The Attorney General’s Office moved to dismiss the complaint in March because Lindsay’s expert, endocrinologist Robert J. Cooper, did not work in the specific area of correctional nursing.
Amy L. Caturano, a nurse at York, conducted the intake screening on Diaz. The lawsuit alleges Caturano did not adequately assess Diaz.
The state argued in its motion to dismiss Lindsay’s lawsuit, that the lawsuit does not offer the opinion of a registered nurse but a board-certified endocrinologist who believes Diaz was denied proper medical care solely for “not having her thyroid levels monitored upon entry into (York CI).’”
The Attorney General’s motion added Cooper did not list any of his credentials, training or experience, other than the fact that he is board-certified in endocrinology.
It adds that Cooper goes on to state that “in (his) capacity as a board-certified endocrinologist,” he believes Diaz was denied proper medical care solely for “not having her thyroid levels monitored upon entry into (York CI).”
Judge Jacobs soundly rejected the state’s argument in his 14-page memorandum last week.
He wrote that Dr. Cooper is a clinical endocrinologist who is board-certified in endocrinology and internal medicine and is licensed to practice medicine in the state of Connecticut. Jacobs added Cooper has also educated registered nurses and has training and experience in the field of nursing, thus qualifying as a ”similar health care provider“ in the case.
The lawsuit is now able to proceed.
Family says ruling is a “huge win”
Amber Diaz of Groton, Desiree’s sister, told The Day Tuesday that denying the motion to dismiss has provided some peace for the family.
“For me personally it was a huge win. It’s being able to gear up and go into battle instead of just waiting to see like, ‘OK, is this going to happen?’” Diaz said. “Seeing that they wanted to dismiss it, it was heartbreaking. Now, being able to have even this small win — I understand it’s a full war we’re in, and I feel like this was just one of the first battles.”
Elizabeth Benton, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office, wrote in an email that her office is reviewing the judge’s decision “and evaluating next steps.”
Although the court has yet to determine upcoming events in the case, Krayeske said his team will wait and see what the state does next. He expects the state to file an answer to the original complaint, and then for discovery to start.
The lawsuit describes the last hours of Diaz’s life.
Groton Town police arrested resident Diaz on charges of breach of peace, third-degree assault and violation of a protective order on June 3, 2018 after they say she was intoxicated and physically assaulting the father of her two children. While dealing with alcohol withdrawal in custody, she fell into a coma and eventually died due to her underactive thyroid.
After an autopsy, the cause of death was determined as “sudden death in the setting of chronic ethanolism (alcohol dependence) and hypothyroidism.”
Before her incarceration, Diaz “suffered from a thyroid condition in addition to her addiction to alcohol,” Krayeske wrote in the complaint.
He said this was known information when Diaz was taken into custody, as a nurse electronically signed Diaz’s medical record the night of June 4, 2018. The next morning, Diaz was found unresponsive in her prison cell.
Krayeske and Lindsay are claiming that Diaz “was denied the proper medical treatment by not having her thyroid levels monitored, along with not being placed in a detox watch,” according to the complaint.
“The injuries suffered and death by Ms. Diaz were caused by the negligence of the State of Connecticut Department of Correction,” the complaint reads. “The State of Connecticut Department of Correction had a duty to provide appropriate medical care and treatment to Ms. Diaz... ”
Amber Diaz said her sister’s death has been “extremely hard” on the family. One of Desiree Diaz’s children had their junior prom a few days before her funeral. Now, one of the children is living with their dad in the area, and the other has moved to New Mexico to be with family.
Amber Diaz has joined and spoken with activist groups that push for inmate rights. She said the state’s ardent refusal to admit wrongdoing in this case “has been extremely frustrating.”
“She was only in there for 24 hours, and she had multiple indicators saying she was supposed to be in a medical unit,” Amber Diaz said of her sister. “She definitely should’ve been taken care of better. For it to only have been that short an amount of time, it underscores how bad it really is. You don’t even need to be in the system for months at a time. That negligence can happen overnight, literally.”
Amber Diaz said she is hoping ultimately for accountability from the state, and for state legislation to better protect Connecticut’s inmates. She said she is not surprised by the staunch efforts by the state to deny wrongdoing.
“I knew it was going to be hard, I knew it was going to be a battle, I knew things sometimes take a long time. I definitely knew they were going to try to fight,” she said.