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California nurse charged with involuntary manslaughter, accused of walking away from inmate who died

A nurse at a county jail in California was charged with involuntary manslaughter Thursday after being accused of walking away from a 24-year-old inmate who collapsed in front of her on a cell floor before she died.

Danalee Pascua faces up to four years in prison if convicted of the charge stemming from the November 11, 2019, death of Elisa Serna at the Las Colinas Detention Facility in the San Diego suburb of Santee, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office said.

The day before she died, Serna was moved into the jail's medical observation unit after reporting she felt dizzy and nauseous.

According to prosecutors, Serna passed out in front of Pascua the next day and the nurse did not check her vital signs and instead left her on the floor for about an hour before returning with deputies to begin "futile lifesaving measures."

The district attorney's office said the San Diego County Sheriff's Department alerted prosecutors to the case after conducting its own internal investigation. The sheriff's department offered condolences to the family in a statement Thursday.

The district attorney's office said the investigation is ongoing and others may be involved.

Pascua is scheduled to be arraigned November 18. The district attorney's office did not immediately respond to an email asking if Pascua had an attorney yet.

The sheriff's department initially said Serna died from complications of drug abuse, with a contributing factor of early intrauterine pregnancy.

CBS affiliate KFMB-TV reports her family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the county last year, alleging jail staff were aware of her substance abuse and subsequent withdrawal symptoms but did not provide her with treatment. Though Serna was fainting, had low blood pressure, was vomiting regularly and displaying odd and incoherent behavior, jail staff "ignored the obvious signs of medical distress" and "failed to provide proper medication as Elisa's condition was worsening," the complaint alleges.

"There is nothing more sacred than the sanctity of life and when that life is in the custody and care of government, it must be safeguarded and provided with the appropriate medical care," San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said in a statement. "The evidence in the in-custody death of Elisa Serna demonstrates criminal negligence that contributed to her death."

KFMB-TV reports the attorney for Serna's family, Gene Iredale, said Serna left behind her parents, her sister and a young daughter who's now 6 years old. He's said he hopes that by the end of the investigation, anyone else who was negligent in Serna's death will also be held accountable.

"The conditions of confinement and the lack of adequate care have caused death after death over a long period of time. This is not an isolated incident," Iredale told the station.

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