SAN JOSE, Calif. – Three Northern California jail guards have been arrested after an inmate under their watch was found dead of multiple blunt trauma, authorities said.
Santa Clara County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. James Jensen said Thursday that the deputies — Rafael Rodriguez, 27, Jereh Lubrin, 28, and Matthew Farris, 27 — remain in custody without bail.
Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph O’Hara said that Michael James Pipkin Tyree, 31, died of multiple blunt force injuries, “visceral lacerations” and internal bleeding.
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, her voice breaking and eyes tearing up, apologized Thursday to Tyree’s family and said “the disappointment and disgust I feel cannot be overstated.” She was flanked by 18 uniformed officers, and at least another dozen members of her agency in plain clothes attended a news conference.
She said the three officers, who she called “accused murderers,” were treated as anyone else as they were handcuffed, booked and locked in protective custody in the same jail where Tyree was killed. They’ve since been transferred to an unnamed facility for their own protection, she said.
Exactly what happened leading up to Tyree’s death remains murky.
Last Thursday, Tyree and other inmates in his jail wing were securely locked in their cells when the beating apparently took place. Smith refused to provide details but said the three officers were conducting a routine clothing search and left the wing.
She said about an hour later one officer re-entered the cell and issued a “man down” call. Tyree, naked and covered in feces and vomit, was declared dead by responding paramedics.
Smith said she apologized directly to two of Tyree’s sisters earlier Thursday, and repeated her “profound sorrow” over his death.
Smith said the day after Tyree was declared dead, the guards — who had begun working their regular shift — were removed from duty, stripped of their weapons, uniforms and peace officer status. It took several more days for them to be arrested.
They currently are on unpaid administrative leave, Smith said.
Attorney Paula Canny, representing Tyree’s family, commended the sheriff for an “extraordinary” response.
“This could have been dragged out,” Canny said.
Canny urged community members to think about “how we, as a system, treat mentally ill people” and said she hopes the district attorney will bring the officers to justice.
Raj Jayadev, director of local civil rights organization Silicon Valley De-Bug which works to support families of people in the criminal justice system, said he hopes there are investigations into other abuse complaints at the county jail.
His organization has heard frequent claims, he said, but filing complaints is challenging because it can put inmates at additional risk.
He said he’s hopefully Smith was sincere in her commitment to fully investigate.
Attempts to reach relatives of the deputies were unsuccessful Thursday.
Tyree was homeless and awaiting to be transferred to a mental-health facility when he died. He was serving a 5-day sentence on a petty theft charge.
A former girlfriend told the San Jose Mercury news that Tyree had hoped for a life of peace and tried, although unsuccessfully, to keep his bipolar disorder in check.
Lindsay Solomon, who dated Tyree when she was a teenager in Coral Springs, Florida, told the paper he could get “very agitated and agitate someone else. I could see it escalating.”
“But if you’re a police officer, or a guard, you should have better judgment than that,” she told the newspaper.
Associated Press, “3 California deputies arrested in jail inmate’s death; man died of blunt trauma, official says”, Associated Press, September 04, 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/09/04/3-california-deputies-arrested-in-jail-inmate-death-man-died-blunt-trauma/