Elisa Serna, a 24-year-old inmate at Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee, California, collapsed and later died in custody in 2019. 

Now prosecutors are filing charges against Danalee Pascua, the 34-year-old nurse who allegedly neglected to treat Serna adequately. 

Pascua is facing an involuntary manslaughter charge, a felony that carries a potential punishment of up to 4 years in prison under state law. 

Elisa Serna, 24, died at Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee, California in 2019. Now, prosecutors are charging nurse Danalee Pascua with involuntary manslaughter.
Elisa Serna, 24, died at Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee, California in 2019. Now, prosecutors are charging nurse Danalee Pascua with involuntary manslaughter. Photo credit: Circulated by Serna Family Lawyer

What Happened to Elisa Serna? 

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said that on Nov. 10, 2019, Elisa Serna complained of dizziness and nausea and was moved to Las Colinas’ medical observation unit. 

The next day, prosecutors said, Danalee Pascua was sent into Serna’s cell to take down her vital signs. 

“Serna fell in the defendant’s presence,” the DA’s office wrote in a statement

“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.”

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Office, which operates Las Colinas Detention Facility, said Pascua was placed on “paid administrative assignment” within days of the incident, while the office conducted an investigation of Serna’s death. 

The nurse has not had contact with any patient since that time, the Sheriff’s Office said. 

On Thursday — the same day that the DA’s office filed the manslaughter charges — the Sheriff’s Office announced that Pascua was suspended without pay, “based on sustained findings of misconduct following a Sheriff’s Department Internal Affairs investigation,” they said

San Diego County DA Summer Stephan said that inmate Elisa Serna died in 2019 due to the 'criminal negligence' of jail nurse Danalee Pascua.
San Diego County DA Summer Stephan said that inmate Elisa Serna died in 2019 due to the ‘criminal negligence’ of jail nurse Danalee Pascua. Photo credit: SanDiego.gov

Danalee Pascua is Facing Felony Charges

District Attorney Summer Stephan said Pascua was criminally liable for Seerna’s death. 

“There is nothing more sacred than the sanctity of life, and when that life is in the custody and care of government, it must be safeguarded and provided with the appropriate medical care,” she wrote in a statement. “The evidence in the in-custody death of Elisa Serna demonstrates criminal negligence that contributed to her death.”

DA Stephan added that Pascua may also face non-criminal penalties for her alleged actions in the 2019 incident. 

“In this particular incident, we can only file charges against the individuals involved if it is determined there is criminal negligence beyond a reasonable doubt,” she explained

“Other systems such as civil actions, administrative sanctions and citizen review boards provide wider remedies without the very high burden of proof of criminal accountability.”

Danalee Pascua was not listed as an inmate in San Diego County jail records as of Saturday. CBS8 reports that the nurse is due in court on Nov. 18 for her arraignment. 

Las Colinas Detention Facility inmate Elisa Serna collapsed and later died in custody in 2019. This week, prosecutors filed felony manslaughter charges against jail nurse Danalee Pascua.
Las Colinas Detention Facility inmate Elisa Serna collapsed and later died in custody in 2019. This week, prosecutors filed felony manslaughter charges against jail nurse Danalee Pascua. Photo credit: Circulated by Serna Family Lawyer

Serna’s Family Seeks Justice

Gene Iredale, a lawyer for the family of Elisa Serna, said the 24-year-old left behind her parents, a sister, and a young daughter, who is now 6. 

Iredale said the family has filed a civil suit seeking damages for a wrongful death. 

“The conditions of confinement and the lack of adequate care have caused death after death over a long period of time. This is not an isolated incident,” the attorney said. 

The Sheriff’s Office’s statement included “deepest sympathies” to Serna’s family, saying it hoped the charges against Pascua ”will bring some comfort” to them. 

According to a March 2020 press release from jail officials, Elisa Serna died “from complications of drug abuse, with a contributing factor of early intrauterine pregnancy.” She had been booked into Las Colinas the week before her death, reportedly on “theft and drug-related” charges.