The parents of a woman who was beaten to death at a county jail last year are suing the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, alleging failures by several of its leaders and deputies allowed her to be killed by her cellmate.
Chief among the failures, the lawsuit says: Deputies gave Kaushal Niroula, who was transgender, a sex offender cellmate with a violent past.
The new court case, filed Friday in federal court, adds to the cascade of similar suits over inmate deaths that have been recently against the department, which is also being investigated by the state attorney general over the deaths and other allegations of misconduct and civil rights violations.
A record 19 inmates died in the jails in 2022.
The suit states that the department acted negligently and in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and state law by allowing Niroula to be housed in a cell with Ronald Sanchez, a man who was a convicted sex offender and had a history of violent behavior. The sheriff's department manages all jails in Riverside County.
The suit states that sheriff’s personnel knew Sanchez posed an imminent threat to Niroula, who was particularly vulnerable because she was transgender and HIV-positive, and yet the sheriff's department allowed the two to be housed together at the Cois Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.
Niroula, who was 41, was in jail because she had been charged with being a part of a group of people that attacked and killed 74-year-old Clifford Lambert at his Palm Springs home in 2008.
Niroula’s death was announced by the sheriff’s department on Sept. 7 of last year, one day after she died. The department said at the time that Niroula died after getting into a confrontation with Sanchez, who was 61.
The suit, which cites the coroner’s investigation into Niroula’s death, states that surveillance video shows the door of the shared cell being closed from the inside at the time the attack is believed to have happened. The video also shows multiple inmates who walked up to or near the cell and are believed to have been aware a beating was taking place. The suit alleges that the video shows Sanchez high fiving and shaking hands with other inmates shortly after the attack.
The suit also states that no jail staff came to check on Niroula while she was being beaten for 68 minutes, despite having an obligation to conduct cell safety checks once every hour and protect inmates from violence more generally. Attorney Denisse O. Gastélum also writes that jail staff only came to the cell after being summoned by inmates and that Niroula was dead by the time they arrived.
The complaint notes Niroula was killed just three days before her trial was set to begin. Gastélum alleges in the complaint that the family has learned Niroula had been assisting state and federal investigators looking into illegal wiretapping at the jail.
“Upon information and belief, the brutal and violent assault of Ms. Niroula had been planned for some time and was a coordinated effort of both inmates and staff,” Gastélum wrote.
The suit, filed on behalf of Niroula's estate by her parents, Radha Niroula and Krishna Niroula, seeks unspecified damages. It cites 11 causes of action, including the failures to protect Niroula from harm, to provide medical care to her as required under the Constitution and to hire and train sheriff’s staff who would enforce policies protecting Niroula from harm.
Among those named in the suit is Sheriff Chad Bianco and two other jail officials who the suit states “acted with deliberate indifference, gross negligence and reckless disregard of the safety, security, protection and constitutional and statutory rights of decedent Kaushal Niroula and all other persons similarly situated."
The suit is at least the fifth to be filed this year by people alleging that the deaths of their family members in Riverside County jails could’ve been prevented by the sheriff’s department.
Paul Albani-Burgio covers breaking news and the city of Palm Springs. Follow him on Twitter at @albaniburgiop and email him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Lawsuit: Transgender inmate killed after getting sex offender cellmate