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Family Claims Inmate Died after Questionable Stay at Sacramento County Jail

SACRAMENTO -- A woman's family is demanding answers after she died days after her arrest.

"When I walked in to see my mom I walked in and she had a fist in her eyeball, her eye was so black and blue. I couldn't help her," said Heather Qualls through tears.

Thinking back on what her mother looked like in better times, Qualls almost could not reconcile those images with the woman she saw suffering in a bed at the UC Davis Medical Center.

"They had a towel wrapped around her. I didn't even know about this injury yet," Qualls said. "She was scratched down the side of her. She had a broken hip. Her hip was messed up, it was twisted to the side the way she laid in the bed."

Irma McLaughlin ended up in the hospital Sept. 1 and died two days later. That was four days after the 66-year-old woman was arrested at her home on suspicion of possessing methamphetamine for sale, conspiracy and violating her probation on a hit-and-run charge.

McLaughlin's only daughter among her four children says her mother was a hardworking waitress who kept two jobs to provide for her kids.

"My mom was a good person, a really good person. Anybody who met her, within the first five minutes you would know that. We called her sunshine," Qualls told FOX40.

That all faded after a recent incident at the Sacramento County Main Jail.

Qualls says she's been told by Sacramento County Sheriff's deputies that her mother fell from the top of a bunk bed.

Qualls claims that would be impossible because her mother would not have been able to climb that high. Where McLaughlin was housed Qualls says top bunks were only used for storage.

The sheriff's deputies dispute what Qualls has to say about the bed situation.

When she was finally able to see her mother at the hospital, Qualls says her mother grabbed her shirt on the way into emergency surgery.

"She was saying, 'They're lying.' She said, 'They're lying,'" Qualls said.

According to the sheriff's department, McLaughlin "pushed the emergency button in her cell and stated she sustained a fall."

The trip to the hospital came after a transfer to the jail medical floor.

Once hospitalized and with a need for extended medical care, McLaughlin was released from custody to facilitate treatment and because deputies say she was being held for a "low-level offense."

Though deputies also tell FOX40 an extensive investigation inside the jail shows the trauma McLaughlin suffered was "not the result of any type of assault." Her children claim they heard differently from UC Davis doctors and nurses.

"She said, 'I'm gonna tell you right now that she didn't fall off a bunk bed. It's not consistent,'" Qualls said.

Qualls says she believes someone attacked her mother.

"I believe my mom got beat," she said. "My mom got beat to death and I believe if it was an inmate they wouldn't cover it up."