REGIONAL — Alameda County has agreed to pay $5 million to the family of a 20-year-old Fremont man who killed himself in the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin after a sheriff's lieutenant left him tethered to a jail door with a chain.
The settlement reached last week with Christian Madrigal's mother, Gabriela Covarrubias, and stepfather, Jose Jaime, was among the largest sums paid out by the county in five years. His parents, however, do not believe justice was served and continue to demand criminal charges against the lieutenant and other deputies involved, said their attorney, Adante Pointer.
"No amount of money can replace a parent's heartache and pain for losing their son in such a senseless way," Pointer said. "They called police for help with their son. Instead they killed Christian.
"Given the way the legal system is set up, the only shot they have at justice is if (Alameda County District Attorney) Nancy O'Malley does the right thing by charging the deputies who took part in this parade of horribles, which ultimately resulted in a kid being buried before his parents."
Madrigal's parents sued the county for excessive force and wrongful death following their son's June 15, 2019, death, which occurred five days after he was found unresponsive in a jail cell, the chain wrapped around his neck. The coroner's office concluded Madrigal died from the cessation of blood flow to his brain because of hanging and ruled the death a suicide.
Madrigal's parents called Fremont police for help on June 10, 2019, when he behaved erratically at home. It was the third time that week that Madrigal encountered law enforcement.
On June 6, officers shot him with a taser when he tried to bypass security at San Jose International Airport and fought with police. Madrigal was placed in a hospital for psychiatric observation and released two days later. On June 9, Jaime called Fremont police because Madrigal was aggressive and screaming. Madrigal told police he had ingested "mushrooms" and used marijuana.
The next day, when officers arrested him for being under the influence of a controlled substance, Madrigal became combative and was transferred in a spit mask and restraints from Fremont to the Santa Rita Jail.
According to an internal affairs investigation, two deputies suggested securing Madrigal in a ‘restraint chair,’ but their lieutenant, Craig Cedergren, overruled them and had Madrigal placed in ankle restraints and handcuffs. A chain was tethered to the cell door.
The next day, Madrigal was found unresponsive, hanging from the chain. He lingered in the hospital for five days.
During questioning, Cedergren told the investigator that his decision to chain Madrigal to the door was an ‘epic mistake.’
"I asked Lt. Cedergren if, in hindsight, he believed it would have been a better option to have used the restraint chair versus tethering Mr. Madrigal to the door with ankle restraints and he told me, 'It would have been a better option to do something different, which might have included the restraint chair. Could have been simple – as you said, open the door and make him lay on the floor,'” Alameda Sheriff Sgt. Mark Pickett wrote in his June 30, 2019, report.
Cedergren retired soon after but was not prosecuted. The Alameda County District Attorney's Office declined to file criminal charges against him or any of the other deputies involved, saying, "Criminal negligence involves more than ordinary careless, inattention or mistake in judgment."
Pointer called Cedergren's admission insincere.
"I do not believe he chained Christian to the door by mistake," Pointer said. "Instead, it was a conscious decision, which he elected to undertake knowing he was not supposed to do it."
Cedergren, Pointer said, then lied to his fellow deputies and investigators when he said the tactic was something he had done previously. According to Pointer, Cedergren said that chaining Madrigal to the door "was not an issue, when in fact, he did tie some other detainees in Santa Rita Jail to a door, naked, for having an extra item of bedding linen in their cell."
Pointer said Cedergren was not disciplined but was admonished not to do that again. In addition, the report said, Cedergren's fellow deputies questioned whether it was appropriate to chain Madrigal to the door.
"Even after (Cedergren) tied Christian to the door, he then failed to keep an adequate watch over him. Once again, a conscious decision," Pointer said. "So, the whole idea of this being a mistake rather than a series of volitional acts is belied by the evidence."
Madrigal's parents, Pointer said, want O'Malley to hold Cedergren accountable "for treating their son less than a dog, for ignoring Christian's pleas for help and for ultimately violating his oath and duty to protect and preserve life, not degrade and take it."
"The parents feel horrible," Pointer said. "Every day, they live with the idea that they called the police looking for help, but instead, they unknowingly placed their son in greater danger. Every day, they mourn the loss of their oldest son, Christian. There's no amount of money that can dull their heartache and pain."