Last July, 50-year-old Alberto Petrolino was arrested near the Golden Gate Bridge while possibly contemplating committing suicide, and several days later he was found dead in his cell in SF County Jail. He had been arrested by CHP officers, drunk on a bench in a parking lot near the bridge, after his family had called the CHP worried about his safety. Officers arrested him on an outstanding warrant for violating a stay-away order involving a domestic violence claim, because they determined he had contacted the woman involved two weeks earlier. And, instead of taking him to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, after he allegedly repeatedly insisted he was not going to kill himself, he was jailed with the general population and not on suicide watch. After he was later found hanging, apparently by his own hand, in a jail shower, his family now is filing a wrongful death lawsuit against both the CHP and the SF Sheriff's Department, claiming his death should have been prevented.
Attorney Ernie Galvan, who is representing the Petrolino family, says in a release received by SFist, "Jail suicides are a serious problem that needs to addressed," noting that Petrolino's was the eighth suicide to occur in the county jail since 2009.
Hayes Valley residents in the 1990's may have known Petrolino as the chef-owner of Terra Brazilis. He later struggled with alcoholism, and had been repeatedly put through the jail's detox program.
As we learned last year, shortly before his suicide a public defender had requested in court that Petrolino be taken for medical treatment or evaluation, saying she was "struck by how distraught he was."
"I called the jail and told them my brother was suicidal,” says Angela Petrolino, Alberto’s surviving sister. "My mom even went to the jail and spoke with a deputy on the night Alberto was arrested. It is terrible that they don’t care about keeping people safe when they know of the risk."
Attorney Jeffrey Bornstein says, "San Francisco has a responsibility to do better," adding, "The family hopes that this action will cause the San Francisco County Jail and the California Highway Patrol to improve existing policies and procedures to care for people who are potentially at risk for harming themselves."
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; and call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.