Lawsuit: Inmate will go blind from lack of care inside jail

Brian Szasz says jail medical staff ignored numerous warning of preexisting medical conditions which have caused blindness

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — A jail inmate says his vision is permanently blurred and he will go blind as a result of insufficient medical care inside Vista Detention Facility.

It is the latest lawsuit in a string of lawsuits alleging inhumane and insufficient conditions inside county detention facilities. It also comes just days after the San Diego Sheriff’s Department announced the 14th death inside jails so far this year.

Brian Szasz, 36, was detained in June 2021 on online stalking charges. Szasz suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and is a Type 1 diabetic which has morphed into retinopathy, a condition that deteriorates the retina for some with diabetes. 

Upon his arrest, Szasz says he informed jail staff during intake of his medical condition. Jail medical staff, however, failed to perform any medical consultations, and was not prescribed the insulin needed to maintain his blood sugar levels.

In addition, Szasz claims that guards purposely placed him inside a cell with a violent inmate with a mental illness. Inside the cell, the other inmate attacked him in a desire to exorcise the demons. The inmate viciously attacked Szasz and bit Szasz in the neck and on his thumb. According to his lawsuit, he suffered fractures in his face his thumb “was hanging on by the skin.” 

Despite his injuries, Szasz says no medical check-ups were conducted for five days until an infection set in as well as sepsis. Doctors said, according to the lawsuit, that Szasz was close to death at the time of his subsequent surgery.

After being stabilized, Szasz’s lawsuit says doctors instructed jail medical staff to start Szasz on an insulin regimen as well as laser treatments for the retinopathy. 

Despite the orders from doctors, Szasz says he was left without any medication, and when he said something staff nearly gave him a lethal dose of insulin. 

Meanwhile, Szasz’s father, Leslie, was writing letters to former Sheriff William Gore and others imploring them to render help and provide his son with the medical attention he needed.

“Brian needs to have consistent and regularly scheduled treatments in order to prevent blindness,” reads a July letter from Leslie Szasz. “I have filed two complaints with your department via your online portal since Brian’s current incarceration. I have received no response…”

Leslie Szasz, a retired FBI agent who lives in Ohio, says he was left with no answers and no way of knowing if his son was still alive.

“As a dad, it makes me sick, I feel miserable, literally sick to my stomach,” Szasz told CBS 8. “I couldn’t sleep and still can’t. For months, I was up in the middle of the night. I figured I might as well start writing letters.”

Leslie Szasz didn’t stop there in trying to advocate for his son. “I even contacted the FBI in San Diego. It was a civil rights violation.  I was basically told to get lost. I contacted the grand jury the district attorney, and all the same, they told me to drop dead and get lost, and we can’t do anything.”

Szasz says his son has since been transferred to a state prison. 

Danielle Pena represents Brian Szasz in the lawsuit. Pena specializes in jail lawsuits and civil rights violations inside county detention facilities. 

Pena says the county shouldn’t wait any longer to implement the recommendations from the state auditor who found major inadequacies and substandard conditions inside county jails.

Said Pena, “We want the change recommended by the state auditor. I believe the only way to enact this systemic change is to hold the right people accountable. The county contracts with third-party med groups. Those groups have no interest in care but only the bottom line. The county must do away with contracted groups and hire its own staff and doctors and start with institutional care.” 

A spokesperson for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

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