Late husband among a series of suicides this year
The wife of a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who killed himself earlier this year–one of eight suicides among current or former agency employees–has announced the filing of a $20 million damages claim against the department, claiming forced overtime hours led to her husband’s severe depression.
Deputy Arturo Atilano-Valadez died Nov. 7 and was one of four people connected with the sheriff’s department to die of suicide within a 24-hour period. According to the damages claim filed on behalf of his wife, Michele Atilano, and their two children, the deputy was “forced to remain working in the jails” for 12 years, often working 12 hours per day or more, “locked in like a prisoner.”
The claim contends the deputy was also forced to work mandatory overtime, and his requests for transfer out of the jails were denied, contributing to growing depression that ultimately led him to fatally shoot himself.
“But for the intentional actions by the defendants, with forced overtime and forcing him to work in the jail for so long, he would not have been killed,” the claim contends.
At a news conference with her attorney, Michele Atilano said deputies are literally being worked to death.
“When I spoke to (Sheriff Robert) Luna at the hospital, I told him that double, single, double, single–they do not care how many hours these deputies work,” she said. “He doesn’t even know how much overtime he gives them. I want to know how many have committed suicide this year because my husband was just one of many, many that are still sick in the jails being forced to work all the time.”
Luna has said he is working to reduce the amount of overtime hours being worked by deputies, acknowledging the toll it takes on their mental health.
“We have lost eight employees to suicide. That is not acceptable,” he said. “... At the end of the day, it is our job, my job, to make sure we have the services available to our employees.”
Atilano’s attorney, Bradley Gage, also filed a similar damages claim against the sheriff’s department late last month on behalf of the parents of Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer, who was fatally shot in an ambush attack in Palmdale in September.
Michael and Kim Clinkunbroomer contend their son had worked 69 hours of overtime in addition to his normal 40 hours in the two weeks prior to his death. The claim contends that such excessive work requirements left Clinkunbroomer worn down, lowering his situational awareness and leaving him susceptible to an ambush such as the one that took his life.
The legal claims are precursors to possible lawsuits.
The sheriff’s department noted that it has counseling services available around the clock for department personnel, along with a peer support program. Support services are also being offered to families of the employees who died.