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Family of man who killed himself in police custody sues Newport

Wrongful death suit alleges police ignored physical, behavioral signs of a suicidal man.

August 06, 2011|By Lauren Williams, lauren.williams@latimes.com

The family of a mentally ill man who killed himself while in police custody has filed a wrongful death suit against the city of Newport Beach and members of its Police Department.

On the afternoon of July 31, 2010, Sandy Wedgeworth called 911 for assistance, asking for an ambulance to take her bipolar husband to the hospital, the family asserts in its July 22 lawsuit.

But

William Robert Wedgeworth, 43, was having a manic episode when he was arrested and taken to jail rather than to a nearby hospital, according to the suit.

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The family claims that on numerous occasions police responded to the home on calls regarding William Wedgeworth's illness, and in the past had placed him on a 72-hour welfare hold.

The lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court alleges that police ignored physical and behavioral signs, including incoherent speech, which were indications that Wedgeworth needed medical attention.

"The NBPD denied Mr. Wedgeworth such medical evaluation and treatment with devastating consequences to Mr. Wedgeworth and his family," the suit said.

Wedgeworth killed himself within hours of his arrest, and was being held on suspicion of spousal abuse.

"We are very sorry for the family's loss. However, the incident has been thoroughly investigated, and we believe the lawsuit has no merit," said Newport Beach city spokeswoman Tara Finnigan. "Our officers conducted the required welfare checks on Mr. Wedgeworth and had no reason to believe Mr. Wedgeworth was a threat to himself."

Sandy Wedgeworth and family filed four other suits against the city and department in January seeking upward of $34 million for his death.

The Orange County district attorney in March cleared the department of any wrongdoing in a letter addressed to Police Chief Jay Johnson.

In the letter, the D.A. said there was no evidence of malice or criminal negligence. It also stated that Newport officers performed hourly checks and conducted a medical screening of Wedgeworth, when he stated he did not intend to harm himself.

The Newport Beach City Council is scheduled to discuss the litigation in a closed-door session during the council's regular meeting Tuesday.

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