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San Diego County records 10th jail death this year

A 64-year-old man in San Diego County jail was found dead early Wednesday morning, the Sheriff’s Department announced, extending what has become the deadliest spate of in-custody fatalities in decades.

Staff at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown San Diego found the unidentified man unconscious and alone in his seventh floor cell just after midnight, officials said. They tried but were unable to revive him, officials said.

“Deputies entered the cell and immediately began life-saving measures,” a department statement read. ”Deputies as well as medical staff provided CPR until paramedics arrived. Despite their best efforts, the man was pronounced deceased just before 1 a.m.”

The deceased man, who was not publicly identified because the family has yet to be notified of the death, is the tenth person to die in San Diego County custody this year.

The department has been plagued with a high mortality rate for years, recording an average of just over one death per month between 2009 and 2018, according to a 2019 investigation by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The death rate has climbed even higher in recent months, with a total of 18 deaths in 2021, the deadliest year in San Diego County since at least 1999. Now the department is on track to exceed last year’s fatalities.

Department officials say they have hired additional staff and made several policy changes to help prevent inmates from dying in custody.

“Every death is a tragedy and our condolences go out to the family and all of those affected by this death,” the statement read. “A sheriff’s family liaison officer has been assigned to notify family members of his passing.”

The latest death comes weeks after the county Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board issued a report that found San Diego County has the highest rate of “excess deaths” in the state.

Released early last month after more than one year of analysis, the civilian oversight board found that inmates in San Diego County are dying at a rate notably higher than the 12 largest counties in California.

Researchers defined “excess deaths” as those that occurred above what would be expected based on a standardized population of jail systems in the state’s 12 most populated counties.

“Most other counties have generally fewer total deaths than what is projected by their county mortality rates,” the study found. “This finding corroborates previous reporting suggesting that in-custody deaths are the most acute in San Diego County.”

The review board study was initiated after former San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore disputed the findings of a six-month investigation published by the Union-Tribune in 2019.

Gore took issue with the national standard in reporting the jail-mortality rate by average daily population, which showed the annual death rate was 245 per 100,000 inmates in the 10 years ending in 2018.

Los Angeles County recorded an annual rate of just under 158, while Sacramento County had fewer than 94 deaths per 100,000 inmates, the Union-Tribune reported.

Gore insisted it was more accurate to deaths by annual bookings rather than daily population even though the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics relies on the daily population to calculate mortality rates in U.S. jails and prisons.

The newspaper series also prompted state lawmakers to order an audit of San Diego County jail deaths and practices — a seven-month review that was released Feb. 3, the same day Gore retired in mid-term.

The state audit, which tracked a total of 185 deaths between 2006 and 2020, said jail practices and conditions in San Diego County were so unsafe that new legislation was needed to reform the system.

“Given the ongoing risk to the safety of incarcerated individuals, the Sheriff’s Department’s inadequate response to deaths and the lack of effective independent oversight, we believe the Legislature must take action to ensure that the Sheriff’s Department implements meaningful change,” the audit stated.

A bill authored by Assemblywoman Akilah Weber, D-La Mesa, aimed at implementing some reforms was introduced this spring and is making its way through the statehouse.

The Sheriff’s Department has already implemented some of the state auditor’s recommendations.

Among other changes, the department now allows outside investigators to participate in the initial response to in-custody deaths. On Wednesday, a Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board investigator responded to the central jail to begin the assessment of the latest fatality.



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