An attorney representing the family of a 27-year-old Orange County Jail inmate who was found dead in the cell he was sharing with an accused double killer plan to file a claim -- a precursor to a lawsuit -- against the county.
Danny Pham was found dead in his cell July 3. A cause of death has not been released.
Five sheriff's employees have been placed on paid administrative leave amid an internal probe of the death, according to Orange County sheriff's Lt. Lane Lagaret. The Orange County District Attorney's Office is also investigating Pham's death, which is routine protocol whenever there is an in-custody death, to determine if anyone is criminally liable.
Top news of the day
Pham's cellmate, Marvin Magallanes, 25, is charged with killing two transients in Anaheim and made headlines last year for attempting to crash the security gate at the Hidden Hills home of unscripted TV star Kylie Jenner.
Attorney Michael Guisti, representing the Pham family, on Tuesday questioned why Pham and Magallanes were housed together. Pham had about another week to go on a "joyriding" conviction before his release, Guisti said, while Magallanes is a "confessed killer and they had questions about his mental stability."
Sheriff's officials take great care to separate inmates who might be a danger to each other, Guisti said. "And they messed that up as bad as you could because somebody got killed. You don't get a worse result than this."
The attorney said he received a call from a source saying the death was caught on surveillance video, "so we may have video on what happened, showing the deputies weren't checking."
Pham was probably dead for "at least an hour" before he was found unresponsive in the cell, Guisti said.
"How did someone not see this guy on the floor?'' the attorney said.
Pham's family has not been given a cause of death, Guisti said.
"I find that troubling, but I don't find it unusual" that officials would be tight-lipped during an investigation, he said.
"I think there could be some sort of negligent cause of death here that could be criminal negligence," Guisti said.
Pham, a cosmetology student, was "just a sweet kid" who got in trouble when he took someone's car out for a joyride and then returned it, Guisti said.
"He was a well-liked guy, the youngest one, so his older siblings took care of him," the attorney said.
If the county rejects the claim, the attorney has 45 days to file a lawsuit.
Magallanes has been in custody since May 11, when he walked into the Anaheim police station and allegedly confessed to at least one murder. He is scheduled to return to court Aug. 15 for a hearing to determine if he is mentally healthy enough to assist in his defense in the double murder case.
At his May 26 arraignment on double murder charges, the defendant said he wanted to plead guilty but was not allowed to do so as he is facing the possibility of the death penalty, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Eric Scarbrough.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has not yet determined whether his office will seek capital punishment in the case involving the stabbing deaths of 52-year-old Onosai Tavita and 49-year-old Sabah Alsaad.
Tavita was killed about 2 a.m. last Oct. 27 at 990 S. Euclid St. He was sleeping behind a restaurant when he was attacked. Alsaad was sleeping on a bus bench at 1200 S. Magnolia St. about 2:15 a.m. last Jan. 27 when he was stabbed to death.
On March 28 and April 13 of last year, Magallanes drove up to Jenner's home and told security guards he was there to see the model and unscripted TV star. When he was denied entry, he tried to drive through the wood security gate arm, cracking it.
Magallanes pleaded no contest to misdemeanor vandalism on Oct. 26 and was sentenced to 10 days in county jail and placed on summary probation for a year, according to a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.