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August 19, 2022

Watsonville settles wrongful death lawsuit

WATSONVILLE—The city of Watsonville recently agreed to settle a lawsuit over the 2018 death of a Watsonville man.

Robert Castillo, 44, died after being struck by multiple cars on Highway 1 hours after he was detained on Nov. 23, 2018 by a Watsonville Police Department officer at his home while having an “acute mental health crisis,” according to court documents. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office told the family the following day that Castillo had committed suicide by walking into traffic, court records show.

Castillo’s mother, Guadalupe, filed the civil rights wrongful death lawsuit in 2019 through San Jose-based attorneys Sarah Elizabeth Marinho and Dmitry Stadlin. The suit claimed WPD “did not ensure that [Castillo] received a psychiatric evaluation by a doctor, despite being an obvious threat to himself,” and that they improperly released him from custody during a mental health crisis.

Marinho did not return multiple calls seeking comment by 5pm Thursday.

In a prepared statement, the city said it strongly disagreed with the claims in the suit, and that it believes its officers acted “lawfully and appropriately.”

“But with the pandemic ongoing and resources limited, it was in the city’s best interest to resolve now rather than incur years of litigation,” the statement read. “The settlement was a mutually-agreeable outcome, including no admission of liability by the city or its officers.”

According to court documents, a WPD officer just a few hours prior to Castillo’s death took him into custody after the family called 911 because he was expressing suicidal thoughts.

The officer, according to a police report referenced in court documents, then transported Castillo to the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) in Santa Cruz and handed him over to a security officer at the front desk.

But, according to the complaint, there is no record of Castillo being at BHU that day, and there are also no records of Castillo being at a Telecare psychiatric facility. That’s despite the fact that a Santa Cruz County Coroner’s report referenced in court documents states that WPD transported him there, the suit claimed.

In its statement, the city said that as part of the settlement it has added funding to its Mental Health Liaison program that will bring aboard a second mental health specialist to work with WPD.

“In addition, Watsonville Police Officers receive ongoing training in both crisis intervention and interacting with persons experiencing mental-health episodes,” the statement read.

The city also agreed to pay the Castillo family $100,000. 

“The city hopes resolution of this case helps bring closure to Mr. Castillo’s family,” the statement read. “The city recognizes the impact of mental health on the community, and has furthered its commitment of such resources.”

The city tried to get the lawsuit dismissed in September 2020, but a federal judge only dropped two of the four claims against the municipality. The city was still facing allegations that its officers failed to provide Castillo “immediate medical care” and that his death was a “direct and proximate” result of the “wrongful and/or negligent acts and/or omissions” of the city and the WPD officer named in the suit.

The complaint originally named recently-retired WPD Chief David Honda as a defendant, but a federal judge last year threw out the claims against him.

Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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