Family Speaks Out About Man's Death in Jail

David Inge, 54, died while in custody on Aug. 9

Phyllis Riggs remembers the last time she saw her boyfriend.

It was Friday morning, Aug. 9, in the garage of her Oceanside home.

Two sheriff’s deputies came looking for David Inge, the man she fondly calls her “life partner.”

“They asked him his name and he told ‘em,” Riggs recalls. “And they asked him to stand up. They handcuffed him, patted him down, and took him out of the garage."

Deputies took Inge to the Vista jail, for violating his probation.

But Riggs had seen this before. She knew David would be home in a few days, back on probation, with yet another chance to shake the demons of methamphetamine and petty crime, and let his gentle and intelligent side shine through.

That night, Riggs checked the Sheriff’s “Who’s in Jail Website” and confirmed that David was in custody at the Vista jail.

But the next morning, she says her 54 year-old boyfriend’s name was gone from the jail roster.

So Riggs and her friend, Dawn Helgren, made the first of what they say were many phone calls to the jail, to find out David and talk with him.

"And they gave us the run around and the run around,” Riggs told NBC 7 Investigates. “Telling us to call back. It’s a shift change. It’s this. It's that."

Helgren kept detailed notes about those phone calls, including one entry that shows she talked with a jail supervisor just after noon, on Saturday night, Aug. 10.

“Yeah,” she says. “That deputy told me that David was released over the weekend."

So Riggs and Helgren made more phone calls. Riggs was sure David would come back home if released from jail, and figured he had been arrested again, or been referred to -- or picked up by -- another agency.

“I checked hospitals. I checked rehabs. I checked the federal system, the state system, the county system,” Riggs says. “Over and over and over again."

Four days later, they still hadn’t found David.

It was Thursday, and says she was frantic. “Nobody knows nothing,” she recalls. “We've got no answers.

She and Dawn continued their search. On Sunday, Aug. 18, they called Inge’s daughter, Nicole Johnson.

That’s how Johnson learned that her father was back in jail.

"I knew, as soon as Phyllis said they couldn't find him, that something bad had happened,” Johnson recalls.

Johnson called the Vista jail, where she says someone gave her a number to call, without telling her who she’d be calling.

And Johnson had no idea that phone number belonged to the County Medical Examiner's office, where an investigator told her, her father had died in jail eight days earlier, on Aug. 9.

Johnson also learned that a jail deputy had found Inge unresponsive in his cell, just 18 hours after booking.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department told NBC 7 Investigates that it was following policy by not telling Johnson, Riggs, Helgren that Inge had died in custody.

The department says information about inmate deaths is disclosed only by the County Medical Examiner.
Commander John Ingrassia confirmed that a jail Captain did take a call from a woman seeking more information about Inge.

Ingrassia said the jail Captain told the caller that Inge was no longer in custody, which is technically correct, because Inge’s body had by then been taken to the Medical Examiner’s office.

Ingrassia said his staff cannot reveal any details about a deceased inmate until next-of-kin have been notified by the Medical Examiner’s office.

But Ingrassia also told NBC 7 Investigates that “the circumstances of this incident regarding the family’s ability to get timely answers regarding Mr. Inge’s status have made us realize we can do things better, and owe it to the public to review our practices when we are contacted by family and friends of inmates shortly after they have passed away.”

The Medical Examiner's office has also launched a review of the Inge case, based on issues raised by NBC 7 Investigates.

The department said next-of-kin notifications are a top priority, and that legal next of kin were notified within 12 hours in 91 percent of the cases it handled last year.

But a department spokeswoman says the notification process can be complicated, which is why “we are currently reviewing this case to determine why notification was delayed”.

The department also said it is “sorry for (the family’s) loss”.

But Inge’s family and friends want answers now.

They say jail booking information, details on Inge’s arrest warrant, other public records, and even Inge's Facebook page made it easy for investigators to find his relatives, or to reach friends who could lead them to Inge’s next of kin.

Those relatives include Inge’s son and ex-wife, who share his last name, and who live less than 90 miles away, in Riverside County.
"I mean I don't know how to say it any better than that his name wasn't ‘Smith’,” said Inge’s girlfriend. “So there's not very many of them, and if there's an Inge, you can almost bet that it's related."

Inge’s friends and family also believe that authorities didn’t try harder to find them, or get them information, because Inge was a drug user and criminal, who’d been in and out of jail and drug rehab for most of his adult life.

Inge’s daughter says that’s not acceptable.

“They still have people that care about them, and would want to know. That’s just crazy,” Johnson said.

It’s still unknown how, exactly, Inge died in custody.

Autopsy results were inconclusive, and the Medical Examiner lists the cause of death as “pending.” That means details won’t be known until toxicology and other lab tests are completed and analyzed, which could take six to eight weeks.

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