It was late on Feb. 11 and Jennifer Schmidt could not find her father. He had early dementia, she said, so she kept close tabs on him, sometimes using her cell phone to track him.
This night, he showed up on the map near where he lived in Escondido, along with an emergency alert symbol. Schmidt hurried to the location, fearing he had been in an accident. But when she arrived, she found him under arrest by California Highway Patrol for erratic driving.
Schmidt was shocked. Her father, Gilbert Gil, did not drink or use drugs. He had never even received a traffic ticket, she told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Schmidt said she told CHP officers that her father, 67, had dementia — she was in the process of having him assessed to determine if he was OK to drive. But officers took Gil to the Vista jail anyhow and charged him with driving under the influence of an illicit substance.
Over the next two days, Gil’s family said he was repeatedly mistaken as someone who was on illegal drugs instead of a man suffering from two serious medical issues, dementia and hyperglycemia — a spike in blood sugar caused by diabetes.
Less than 48 hours after his first arrest, Gil would be found dead in a holding cell at the Vista jail.
The morning after her father’s first arrest, Schmidt called the Vista jail to ask when she could pick him up.
“He’s not getting better,” a nurse told her — meaning, he was not sobering up. Schmidt explained to the nurse that there was nothing for her father to sober up from. He had dementia and diabetes and was likely showing signs of those illnesses, she said. The nurse told Schmidt she would check with her supervisor. Schmidt said she received a call back almost immediately, telling her to come get her father.
When Schmidt picked him up, Gil could barely walk and was struggling to speak. He was yelling for his mother, who had died six months earlier. Schmidt said he did not understand what had happened to him. He was also very thirsty — a symptom of diabetes — but could not seem to remember how to drink from a cup of water. Schmidt’s young daughter brought over her sippy cup to try to help her grandfather.
Schmidt cared for him the best she could, she said, and that evening took him back to the apartment he shared with his brother. That night, Gil again started acting strangely, again asking for his mother and failing to recognize his own brother.
Gil’s brother called his son — Gil’s nephew — who came over and made the decision to call paramedics. Instead, Escondido police officers showed up and determined that Gil must be on some kind of drug and arrested him for being under the influence of a controlled substance.
“He’s in his own house, his own room,” said Danielle Pena, an attorney with the Morris Law Firm, which is representing Gil’s family. “The call was for an EMT, but they arrest him.”
Based on medical records the family obtained from the Sheriff’s Department, before being taken to jail, police took Gil to Palomar Hospital. Notes show that Gil refused certain medical tests. He was released from the hospital to the jail, but with a note from the doctor asking deputies to take Gil to the hospital if he continued to experience chest pain or heart palpitations.
At the Vista jail, a check of his blood sugar showed a level of 253 — more than double the normal level. According to medical records, he was given five units of insulin and placed alone in a holding cell.
The medical paperwork also says that Gil was unable to sign certain pieces of paperwork during booking.
“The patient is willing to sign, but is unable to sign,” the paperwork says.
Jail medical records usually document all interaction with a patient and Gil’s records indicate no one checked on him between when he was given the insulin and when he was found unresponsive in his cell — an elapsed time of at least 15 hours.
“There’s no medical notes,” Pena said. “They didn’t check on him.”
Medical records show that Gil was found at around 6 p.m. on Feb. 14. Deputies and medical staff initiated CPR, the notes say. The notes also said that Gil was “pale and cold” when he was found, naked from the waist down with feces on the floor and on his feet.
A press release from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said that an initial toxicology screening by the medical examiner showed Gil tested “presumptive positive” for methamphetamine, which means the drug or its metabolites — by-products of a drug breaking down — were possibly in his blood.
But drug screening tests have significant limitations, said Dr. Ryan Marino, a medical toxicologist at Case Western Reserve University. Some common prescription medications, like antidepressants, share a similar structural backbone with methamphetamine, called phenylethylamine, which can cause a false positive amphetamine and methamphetamine screen.
Gil was taking the antidepressant trazodone, medical records show.
The medical examiner’s office, through a spokesman, declined to answer questions about the toxicology report until the autopsy is finalized.
Schmidt described her father as a “super hero” and master mechanic who was always there for her and her twin sister, Lyndzy. He was especially fond of his grandchildren.
“I know that if he didn’t go to jail, he’d be alive today,” she said.
Lt. Amber Baggs, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department, said she could not comment on Gil’s death as it is still being investigated, but said that deputies are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug intoxication and how a medical condition might cause the same behavior.
“There are many signs and symptoms that could initially indicate someone is under the influence of a controlled substance, but as the deputy investigates further, it ends up being a medical emergency instead,” Baggs said.
Schmidt said that when she saw her father’s body at the funeral home, she noticed an injury to his head that had not been there before he was arrested. She said this motivated the family to seek a second autopsy. In researching options, she learned about a program started by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick called the Autopsy Initiative, which covers all costs associated with a second autopsy for families of people whose deaths occurred in custody or at the hands of police officers.
The initiative has a team of five board-certified pathologists who conduct the autopsies, including Dr. Allecia Wilson, who performed a second autopsy on George Floyd. Wilson said she could not discuss specific cases, but said she decided to join the initiative as a continuation of her work on the Floyd case, and “to make sure that all the information that can be recovered is recovered.”
A family might opt for a second autopsy, she said, “to ensure that justice is served and to make sure the medical facts make sense.”
Gil’s autopsy was conducted this past Monday, Schmidt said. She said she was told it was the initiative’s first California autopsy and the fifth nationwide.
“They covered absolutely everything,” she said. “They were wonderful.”
Schmidt said she was told the initiative will not issue its official report until after the county issues theirs. A clerk at the San Diego medical examiner’s office said it could take between four and six months to close a case.
Gil was one of at least six San Diego County jail inmates to die since the beginning of the year and one of more than 200 deaths since 2006. In February, a scathing report by the state auditor singled out the Sheriff’s Department for having the highest mortality rate among large California jail systems. The audit encouraged lawmakers to introduce legislation to improve jail conditions.
Assemblymembers Akilah Weber and Chris Ward and Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins last month introduced the “Saving Lives in Custody Act.”