Government / Politics

County wins lawsuit, Martinez considers filing for mistrial or appeal

After losing her lawsuit against the county, Nancy Martinez told supervisors she isn’t done and plans to continue the fight to decriminalize mental illness in the community.
Nancy Martinez said she isn't done fighting against county to decriminalize mental illness. Photo by John Chadwell.

After losing her lawsuit against the county, Nancy Martinez told supervisors she plans to continue her efforts to decriminalize mental illness.

Even though a federal court jury in San Francisco sided with San Benito County in the lawsuit Nancy Martinez brought against the county, she stood before the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 7 and told them she wasn’t done fighting them, describing the verdict as “a bump in the road.”

In a July 27 San Benito County Sheriff’s Office press release, Sheriff Darren Thompson commented: “We thank the jury for its careful consideration, and applaud its decision. The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office always strives to serve the best interests of our community and protect our residents. We know this has not been an easy time for Ms. Martinez and her family. Out of respect for her and her loved ones, we will not be commenting further on this case.”

County counsel Barbara Thompson responded by email to BenitoLink: “The case of Martinez v. County of San Benito was heard in San Francisco in the United States Northern District Court beginning July 9, 2018. The jury spent nearly three weeks evaluating witness testimony and physical evidence, before ruling unanimously in favor of the county and its deputies in the claims brought by the plaintiff (Ms. Martinez). The county counsel’s office believes the jury made the correct decision and is pleased that this litigation has been resolved.”

In her lawsuit, Martinez claimed the county violated the state and federal civil rights of her son, Justin Baldasano, committed assault and battery, and intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon him that ultimately led to his death.

“San Benito County has been knowingly abusing mentally ill people for seven years that I can prove,” Martinez told supervisors at the Aug. 7 meeting. “During that time, not only have they been abusing them, but they tried to make mental illness a criminal act. This is something I’m certain you’re all aware of because you’re all on tape talking about it and it’s been brought to your attention through the [Civil] Grand Jury.”

She was referring to claims that the San Benito County Superior Civil Grand Jury’s findings regarding the lack of mental health care in the county led to the Board of Supervisors reducing funding for the grand jury. Those claims were first made in 2015 by Civil Grand Jury Foreperson Bob Marden (currently a BenitoLink board member), and again by the most recent Civil Grand Jury Foreperson Ann Ross.

Martinez said the next grand jury will need much more funding, adding that she intends to file records concerning the entire incident involving Baldasano—from the night she claims two San Benito County Sheriff’s deputies used unnecessary force in an unprovoked attack, to the lack of mental health care when he was transported to Hazel Hawkins Hospital, through his incarceration at San Benito County Jail.

“It’s going to your grand jury, it’s going to the [state’s] attorney general, it’s going to the disability California people, and it’s also going to the FBI,” Martinez told the supervisors. “While I couldn’t say certain things in federal court, each and every aspect of it will be allowed with those agencies.”

Since Martinez went public, she said 23 people have approached her who she will be advocating for by filing grand jury reports. She claimed each has a similar story of abuse about being placed into a system with no mental health care.

“I’ve dealt with your Sheriff’s Department and heard them actually state that they have the same policies at the jail as they do at the hospital,” Martinez continued. “Either your Sheriff’s Department is completely ignorant of their own policy and procedure manual or they’re just liars.”

According to an email from Hazel Hawkins Hospital Director of Marketing and Community Relations Frankie Gallagher: “Hazel Hawkins Hospital does not have inpatient mental health or behavioral health services.” Gallagher went on to say that the hospital’s emergency department routinely cares for patients with mental or behavioral health issues and they collaborate with San Benito County Behavioral Health “on providing appropriate care based on recognized behavioral/mental health standards and protocols.”

Martinez wondered how the board of supervisors could permit the lack of care to go on for years.

“I’ve heard it said that it affects only a few people,” she said. “Well, guess what, I’m one of those people and I’m certainly not going away. This is going to be dragged to the forefront and it is going to be fixed.”

During the trial, BenitoLink reached out by text to Sheriff Thompson for a comment. He responded by text that once the trial was over he wanted to tell his side of the story. On Aug. 8, he responded to another request for a comment with a brief email to BenitoLink: “We are continually striving to increase our ability to serve the residents of San Benito, and we are committed to applying any lessons from the past 4½ years of reviewing this incident. We wish the best to Mrs. Martinez as we move forward with the outcome [of] the recent jury trial.”

Martinez spoke with BenitoLink by phone Aug. 7 after her appearance at the Board of Supervisors meeting. She said she and her attorney, along with county counsel, will meet on Aug. 20 with the same federal judge who tried the case to decide how to move forward. She said the choices range from a mistrial to an appeal.

“If we ask for a mistrial then we do it again,” Martinez said. “If we ask for an appeal, we go before the Ninth Circuit [Court]. I’m talking to my attorney next week to lay out a game plan on how we want to move forward.”

Martinez said the jury had no choice but to find a verdict in favor of the county. She said the “bar is very low” for proving “fear for safety.” She claims the two deputies lied about fearing for their safety, without having to provide any physical evidence.

“They came into court and said my son turned on them and attacked them and did all these things that never happened and were not in their original reports,” she said. “They had to prove that they were in fear for their lives. They stated because my son was larger than them they feared for their lives.”

Martinez contends the jury believed the two officers, Michael Mull and Victor Casada, because they made their statements under oath. She said because her son’s arrest was deemed justified, the jury never heard that he appeared in court 34 times before finally being exonerated, and that an expert witness who would have testified about her son’s mental condition was not allowed to testify because of a technicality.

“We will go forward and show how they planned on lying before they did so,” Martinez said. “If you read their original reports and what they testified in court, it’s hysterical. That’s why I’m filing this. This isn’t done and they’re going to be held accountable for what they did.”

BenitoLink also contacted each supervisor for a comment. Supervisors Anthony Botelho and Mark Medina declined to comment about the case. Supervisors Robert Rivas, Jerry Muenzer and Jaime De La Cruz did not respond.

Editor’s Note: BenitoLink intends to do a follow-up on this story when the court transcripts become available.

BenitoLink articles related to this story:

Woman sues San Benito County for civil rights violations, wrongful death of son



John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]