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California doctor faces involuntary manslaughter charge in 2019 death of jail inmate

By Stella Chan and Taylor Romine, CNN

A doctor has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of an inmate at a detention facility in Southern California in November 2019, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s office.

Elisa Serna, 24, was an inmate at the Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee when on November 10, 2019, she said she was dizzy and nauseous and was moved to the medical observation unit, the district attorney’s office said in a news release at the time. The next day Serna fell while a nurse was in her cell to take her vital signs and later died, authorities said.

The nurse, Danalee Pascua, had been charged with involuntary manslaughter in November 2021. She has pleaded not guilty.

Dr. Friederike Von Lintig, 57, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, according to an amended criminal complaint filed in San Diego County. She was the physician on duty the day Serna died, according to a news release Wednesday from the district attorney. She was arraigned Wednesday morning.

Von Lintig was a contracted staff member of Coastal Hospitalist Medical Associates and later employed by Correctional Healthcare Partners, according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

CNN has requested further information from the district attorney and is seeking contact information for Von Lintig’s attorney. CNN has been unsuccessful in attempts to reach the doctor.

“Since the initial filing, The District Attorney’s Office has continued to review the matter and has received additional analysis from experts, including from the Medical Board of California, which lead to today’s charges,” Wednesday’s news release says. “The additional evidence developed in this case demonstrates that criminal negligence by this physician contributed to the inmate’s death.”

The release didn’t give specifics on the new evidence.

Von Lintig’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 29.

In November, the district attorney’s office said when Pascua went to check on the inmate, “Serna fell in the defendant’s presence. The defendant failed to get Serna’s vitals, did not move Serna into a recovery position and left Serna on the ground in the cell. About an hour later, Pascua and deputies returned to Ms. Serna’s cell and began futile life-saving measures.”

Pascua, 37, is due in court Thursday.

“We are continuing to deny the allegations brought against Ms. Pascua,” her attorney, Alicia C. Freeze, told CNN. “We have always wondered why this inmate’s sad passing has come down onto the shoulders of Ms. Pascua only — a young nurse with an impeccable record who had only clocked in for work an hour or so prior to the woman’s death. We will continue to advocate for Ms. Pascua’s innocence.”

Freeze said Pascua was not arrested and “appeared timely” when she was given a “Notify Letter” to appear in court.

The “only conditions are restricting her ability to practice nursing, which we have challenged as unconstitutional and will be litigated at the new preliminary hearing date,” Freeze said in an email.

The maximum sentence for someone convicted in California of involuntary manslaughter is four years, according to the district attorney.

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CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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