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Newport council votes for city to defend itself in custody death suit

August 10, 2011

The city of Newport Beach plans to defend itself in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against it and members of the Police Department by relatives of a mentally ill man who killed himself in jail last year.

The City Council on Tuesday night voted 7 to 0 in closed session for the city to mount a defense in the suit brought by William Robert Wedgeworth's family members.

The plaintiffs claim that officers arrested the bipolar man for spousal abuse rather than take him to a nearby hospital while he was having a manic episode.

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

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

Wedgeworth killed himself within hours of his arrest.

— Lauren Williams

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