jail deaths

Leaders Call For ‘Community Oversight' of San Diego County Jails to Prevent More Deaths

This comes several months after a scathing state audit highlighted a lack of independent oversight in county jails and called on the state legislature to take action

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Families with relatives in jail are calling for community oversight of the San Diego County jail system after more inmates have died in recent weeks.

While standing outside San Diego’s symbol of justice – the superior courthouse – community leaders chanted, “No more jail deaths.”

Many spoke passionately about their concerns of loved ones inside county jails. Some of them have also experienced what they call trauma, neglect and abuse.

“I’ve been in the institution; I’ve been behind the walls, and I know all the bull s*** that goes on between an inmate and a g** d*** guard,” community leader Patrick Germany said.

Aeiramique Glass-Blake is a government relations consultant. She said as an activist, she was getting arrested almost every week. But when she was booked into jail, she learned even with community status, you can be overlooked.

“They allowed me to throw up on myself, they separated me from other folk and it wasn’t until another officer told them who I was, they started to shift their behavior,” Glass-Blake said. “A year later, we found out I had cancer and that was the reason I was sick. The officers refused to take me to the hospital.”

Michael Whyte was a former inmate who claims he was bitten by a spider that left his lip swollen beyond recognition.

“I’m not exaggerating, my lip looked like Sherman Klump’s,” Whyte said.

Whyte claims the medical staff did nothing for him for nine days.

“The venom ran its course,” Whyte said. “Luckily, I was young and was able to fight it.”

They’re all now in a much better place in life but are concerned about others still behind bars, especially those with mental health issues.

A state audit released earlier this year said the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department failed to adequately prevent and respond to in-custody deaths. The audit noted in the past 15 years, more people have died while in custody at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s than any comparable county in the state.

Last year, 18 people died.

At least 11 people have died so far this year, including one man with long-term health conditions who was granted compassionate release two weeks ago.

“We’re not talking here about people who died from stomach cancer or brain damage. We’re talking about people who died from avoidable deaths,” North County Equity & Justice Coalition executive director Yusef Miller said.

San Diego County voters established the Citizens' Law Enforcement Review Board or CLERB in 1990 to independently investigate complaints against deputies and probation officers.

The state auditor also noted that “despite its mission to increase public confidence,” … “CLERB has failed to provide effective, independent oversight.”

That’s why this group is proposing community-based oversight along with family being contacted immediately during an inmate’s mental health crisis so they can help calm them down. If an inmate dies, they want family to be contacted immediately and be provided with support from the department. They’re also pushing for the passage of AB-1630 which protects due process for defendants with mental illness.

AB-2343 was also introduced in response to the auditor’s report. It’s called the Saving Lives in Custody Act. It would make changes to county jail procedures in an effort to prevent deaths. That bill has been passed in the assembly. It’s making its way through the state senate.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department leaders have already said they plan to make changes after that scathing audit report, including body-worn cameras, plus better mental and medical checks. NBC 7 reached out to the department Tuesday to get their thoughts on the latest criticism but have yet to hear back.

One of the speakers also called for the use of technology that monitors an inmate’s heart rate -- similar to a Fitbit -- to increase response times when an inmate’s heart stops.

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