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Goleta Woman Recounts ‘Terrifying’ Ordeal While in Custody at Jail

Jennifer Sheaffer says she was taken into custody after suffering a panic attack, then suffered a seizure after being denied her medications

Walking with Jennifer Sheaffer on the Ellwood Bluffs behind her home, it’s easy to forget what she’s been through. The young Goleta artist makes conversation easily and has a contagious smile. But when the topic turns to what happened to her two weeks ago, her face darkens as she recounts her ordeal.

On June 8, Sheaffer was taken into custody for driving under the influence, even though she maintains she had not been drinking. Sheaffer, who suffers from bipolar disorder, says she was placed into custody without the medication she depends on. Because of that, she says, she had a seizure while locked up in the Santa Barbara County Jail for 15 hours.

It all began on a Tuesday night when Sheaffer experienced a bad reaction to a medication while driving downtown. Her vision began to blur as a panic attack started to sink in. She said she pulled her car off the road and approached two California Highway Patrol officers to ask for directions to the nearest long-term parking lot. She was dressed to party, sporting 5-inch heels. She said the combination of high heels and the panic attack caused her to fail the physical drunk tests, including walking in a straight line.

“I was completely freaked out,” she told Noozhawk. “I was shaking so bad.”

She blew a zero on the alcohol test. “There was nothing in my system that was not prescribed,” Sheaffer said.

“They took her in because she had a previous record,” said her mother, Mary Boise. “She got a DUI six years ago. But she blew a zero and they still took her to jail.”

After a slew of drunk tests, she failed the physical test for methamphetamine — she could not cross her eyes. Her medication for attention deficit disorder, Vyvanse, is an amphetamine, which could be falsely identified as methamphetamine. The officers took her into custody.

“I only had a seizure because I was deprived of my medication,” Sheaffer said.

Sheaffer says she takes Wellbutrin, Klonopin and Lithium daily to treat her bipolar disorder. In addition, she takes Lamictal for her seizures, and a sleeping medication. While in jail, she said she was not allowed any of these prescribed medications except for one 300 mg pill of Lithium.

“I usually take 900 mg of Lithium,” she said. “They gave me one 300 mg pill. That does nothing for me. It’s not an anti-seizure medication.”

“She has a mental health disease that requires medicine. It would be like denying a diabetic her insulin,” Boise said. “I couldn’t talk to her until Wednesday. The people at the jail were uncooperative. The most information I got was from Aladdin Bail Bonds.”

She posted $25,000 bail for her daughter. The police handed back the check, saying she wouldn’t need to pay bail because Sheaffer was being held for her third DUI.

Sheaffer says she had warned the authorities about her seizure risks and her medication regimen.

“I told them that they were going to kill me by denying me my meds,” she said, “and that I may as well kill myself.” She said she was then stripped naked and placed under suicide watch.

The Consumer Advocacy Coalition, an organization dedicated to reforming mental health services, found out about the incident on Wednesday and notified jail administration of the risk of a possible seizure, said Leah Juniper, CAC’s director of public relations. By 1 p.m. Thursday, Sheaffer says she still hadn’t received any of her medications. Later that evening, she had a seizure.

Juniper said Sheaffer was held for 28 hours in Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital’s Psychiatric Department waiting for a bed to open up.

“Then, she wanted to stay voluntarily at the 5 East Inpatient Unit in Santa Barbara, but they strapped her down in an ambulance and sent her out of county to Vista del Mar Hospital in Ventura,” Juniper said. “CAC is outraged at the way she was treated during this whole terrifying ordeal. She is traumatized from this. We will not put this to rest until we find out all of the details.”

Sheaffer’s mom adds: “She was treated less than human.”

Roger Thompson, a member of the Santa Barbara County Mental Health Commission, said officials should look into the matter.

“As chair of the System of Care Committee,” he said, “I recommend that there be a site visit of the facility to see what they are doing for mental health patients.”

Last year, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted to privatize the mental health unit at the jail through a two-year contract with Prison Health Services Inc., despite dissension from 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf.

“We’re seeing a real threat to the safety of consumers across the country,” Thompson said. “There’s significant concern given the treatment we’ve seen. I think we should revisit the contract with PHS. I don’t see how it can get any worse.”

Noozhawk on Wednesday called Dr. Leigh Anne Bradley, who serves as a health services administrator for Prison Health Services, but she declined to comment.

Noozhawk intern Andrea Ellickson, a UCSB graduate, is a journalism student at SBCC. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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