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Sheriff’s Department records another in-custody death

A 40-year-old woman in the Sheriff’s Department’s custody died early Saturday at a hospital, officials said, adding to the deadliest spate of in-custody fatalities in decades.

Erica Wahlberg began showing signs of medical distress on June 28 — the day after she was arrested on a drug warrant — while being housed at the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee, officials said. She was sent to a local hospital for treatment where she died days later.

“Every death is a tragedy and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is sympathetic to Miss Wahlberg’s family and loved ones,” a department statement read. “A Sheriff’s Family Liaison Officer has been assigned and the family has been notified of her passing.”

Homicide detectives are investigating Wahlberg’s death, as is typical for all in-custody deaths regardless of whether they are suspicious in nature.

The Medical Examiner’s Office has been notified of the death, as has the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), officials said.

At least 10 other people have died in the Sheriff’s Department’s custody this year.

Deaths have plagued San Diego County’s jails for more than a decade, according to a six-month investigation published by the Union-Tribune in 2019, which found San Diego County had the highest jail-mortality rate among California’s largest counties. Overall, more than 150 men and women have died in Sheriff’s Department custody since 2009, records show.

The death rate climbed even higher last year, with a total of 18 deaths in 2021, the deadliest year in San Diego County since at least 1999.

A California state audit released Feb. 3 said jail practices and conditions in San Diego County were so unsafe that new legislation was needed to reform the system. Department officials say they have hired additional staff and made several policy changes to help prevent inmates from dying in custody.

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