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Contra Costa nurse dies; El Cerrito man charged with murder in jail attack

Contra Costa Times, 10/26/10

By Malaika Fraley and Robert Salonga
Contra Costa Times
October 28, 2010

MARTINEZ -- A nurse who was attacked by an inmate  at the Contra Costa County Jail died of her injuries  today, prompting the promise of new legislation that  would protect medical workers in jails and medical facilities.

El Sobrante resident Cynthia Barraca Palomata, 55,  died this morning, three days after she was struck in  the head with a table lamp by an El Cerrito man  awaiting processing into the jail, authorities said.Aaron Nygaard, 34, was booked into the Martinez  Detention Facility on Monday morning on suspicion  of residential burglary in El Cerrito when, that  afternoon, he faked a siezure and then attacked  Palomata, authorities said. Nygaard was charged  with murder this afternoon.

Palomata, a native of Nabas, Aklan in the  Philippines, worked as a nurse in Bay Area hospitals  for more than 20 years. In December 2005, she joined Contra Costa Health Services, which contracts  medical services for the jail.A co-worker at the jail described Palomata as a  bright and friendly face in what can often be a  somber environment.

 "She was the sweetest person ever," said the co- worker, who declined to be named out of privacy  concerns. "She treated everyone with respect."Palomata's family members declined comment for this story.The District Attorney's Office had charged Nygaard with attempted murder on Wednesday, then  amended the charge to murder this afternoon, said  prosecutor Dominique Yancey.

The Sheriff's Office said Palomata was unconscious after Nygaard struck her  in the head with a lamp he pulled off a desk at the nurse's station. The lamp had been brought in by
one of the medical workers to help with reading.

Nygaard had no criminal record and showed no  signs of aggression before the surprise attack. He  continued to fight deputies after striking Palomata  and was eventually subdued by use of a Taser and  physical force, the Sheriff's Office said.Nygaard remains hospitalized at Contra Costa  Regional Medical Center today. Judge Harlan  Grossman said he did not expect Nygaard to be  released from the hospital until after Friday. Grossman set Nygaard's first court appearance for  Nov. 2, and his bail at $1.07 million.

Palomata was a member of the California Nurses Association, which is calling for "urgent reforms to crack down on a disturbing trend of violence in all facilities where medical care is provided."

State Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Hayward,  agreed late today to sponsor a bill on behalf of the nurses that she would introduce as early as  December, CNA spokeswoman Liz Jacobs said. Palomata is the second Bay Area medical worker to  die after an attack by an inmate this week. Donna Gross, 54, of Concord, was strangled Saturday by a  criminally insane patient at Napa State Hospital,  Napa authorities said. Jess Willard Massey, 37, has  been charged with murder in Gross' death.

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