Vigil to honor nurse killed by jail inmate

November 10, 2010 1:33:47 PM PST
Nurses, patients, friends and community leaders will gather in Martinez tonight for a candlelight vigil in honor of Cynthia Palomata, a nurse who was killed late last month while tending to a county jail inmate.

The California Nurses Association, which is organizing the vigil, hopes that Palomata's death will help them educate people about the threat of violence that registered nurses face from patients in their workplaces.

The attack happened shortly after 4 p.m. on Oct. 25 at the Martinez Detention Facility, which contracts with Contra Costa Health Services for medical care for inmates.

The inmate, 34-year-old Aaron Nygaard, of El Cerrito, had been arrested that morning by El Cerrito police on suspicion of burglary.

He had no prior criminal record and had not shown any signs of aggression during the daylong screening process at the jail, Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf said at a news conference the day after the attack.

Nygaard had been in a holding cell in the intake area of the jail when he allegedly faked a seizure, Contra Costa County sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee said.

Deputies took him to the nurse's station in the intake area, where he admitted that he had faked the seizure to get out of the holding cell, Lee said.

Then, without warning or provocation, Nygaard allegedly grabbed a lamp and stuck Palomata on the head with it, Lee said.

Palomata was taken to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, where she died from her injuries three days later, Lee said.

Nygaard was charged with murder and arraigned last week, but did not enter a plea. He is scheduled to return to court Nov. 15 for further arraignment.

Palomata had worked as a nurse in Bay Area hospitals for the past 20 years and had been working at the Martinez Detention Facility since 2005, Lee said.

"This tragedy makes the heart of every nurse hurt. We know she touched so many lives," DeAnn McEwen, co-president of the California Nurses Association, said in a statement.

"The RNs of California stand by Cynthia Palomata, we are inspired by her brave advocacy and we will never forget who she was or what she meant," McEwen said.

The union is working with state Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi to introduce new legislation that will mandate better protections for nurses working in correctional facilities and other places where medical care is being provided.

Tonight's vigil will take place at 6 p.m. at the jail, located at 1000 Ward St. in Martinez.


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