Family of man who died within hours of arriving at Sacramento jail sues county

The family of a man who died of an apparent overdose within hours of arriving at the Sacramento downtown jail has sued the county.

Cody Catanzarite, 37, was arrested by park rangers on a felony warrant for grand theft on July 20, a Sheriff’s Office news release said at the time.

Catanzarite was transported to Mercy San Juan Medical Center for medical clearance prior to booking, alleged the lawsuit filed last week in Sacramento Superior Court. He told the doctor he had taken ingested two grams of heroin prior to his arrest and had also used methamphetamine earlier in the day.

The hospital cleared him for incarceration with a prescription for Narcan, a drug used to reverse overdoses, and instructions to return to the ER if symptoms worsen, the lawsuit alleges.

At the jail a registered nurse conducted a medical screening, and determined his Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (COWS) — used to assess the level of withdrawal — was a one, the least severe level, the lawsuit alleges. The nurse ordered detox housing for Catanzarite, but did not order further withdrawal assessments, detox regimens or an urgent referral to a medical provider.

The nurse ordered a second nurse to conduct an intake assessment at a later time, but it was delayed for five and a half hours, until about 10:30 p.m., the lawsuit alleges. The second assessment showed Catanzarite’s COWS level had skyrocketed to nine out of 11, including documented risk factors such as elevated pulse, sweating, joint aches, runny nose and gooseflesh skin.

A nurse ordered a opioid detox regimen and gave a first dose, ordered detox housing, COWS monitoring twice daily, a lower bunk assignment and a medical provider referral, the lawsuit states. The following morning at about 9 a.m., staff saw Catanzarite on the surveillance system taking his mattress from his cell to the recreational area and laying down. About 15 minutes later, staff found him to be unresponsive with no pulse.

The Sheriff’s Office news release at the time said Catanzarite was found on the floor outside his cell door, rather than the recreation room as the lawsuit alleges.

Catanzarite was transported to the hospital where he died of cardiac arrest of a suspected drug overdose, the lawsuit alleges.

The county coroner did not immediately provide The Bee with the coroner death report, which includes the cause. However the cause was acute fentanyl and meth intoxication, according to a staff report presented to the Board of Supervisors last month.

No fentanyl testing was available at the jail, that report states. Fentanyl testing is now available at the jail, Sacramento County spokeswoman Kim Nava said.

The lawsuit names as defendants: Sheriff Jim Cooper, Sacramento County, the Sheriff’s Department, county-contracted Maxim Healthcare Services and two nurses. It claims violations of California Code of Regulations for detoxification, safety checks, and treatment plans. It also claims violations of the U.S Constitution, and the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. The plaintiffs are Catanzarite’s mother, Linda Catanzarite, and his daughter, who is a child.

Sacramento Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Amar Gandhi did not respond to emails seeking comment on the lawsuit. Nava declined comment on the lawsuit. Maxim Healthcare, as well as county supervisors Rich Desmond and Patrick Kennedy did not return emails seeking comment.

“He needed medical attention,” said Mark Merin, the attorney for Catanzarite’s family, who has sued the county over several jail deaths. “He needed someone to asses whether he needed hospitalization. What he needed was obviously more intensive than what they gave him, which was nothing, until the following morning, which was too late.”

The jail is under a federal consent decree, the result of a class action lawsuit, which includes requirements for improving medical and mental health treatment of inmates. The county was in violation of the decree last year for having too few nurses, among other issues. Catanzarite was one of three inmates who died last year of suspected drug overdoses — deaths that could have been prevented with adequate monitoring and detoxification, according to a report by two medical professionals tasked with independently monitoring medical care of Sacramento inmates under the settlement.

Unlike homicides and suicides, medical deaths at the jail, including overdoses, typically lack any independent oversight, a Bee investigation last year found. Since 2018, jail medical care has not been handled by the Sheriff’s Office, meaning it does not fall under the inspector general’s purview.

The county’s contract with Maxim expires in June 2025, Nava said. The Board of Supervisors last year approved nearly $1 billion for a new mental health and intake annex to the jail, which county officials say will make it compliant with the decree, but it won’t open until 2028.

The Sacramento District Attorney’s Office has not yet released the results of its investigation into whether deputies committed criminal misconduct related to Catanzarite’s death.