What’s Behind the High Inmate Death Rate at Santa Rita Jail?

What’s Behind the High Inmate Death Rate at Santa Rita Jail?

Why should the well-funded Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, CA have the highest death rate of any jail in the state, even Los Angeles County, which is the largest in the country? That’s the question many investigators and inmate advocates are asking after it was revealed that 45 inmates died in custody over a five-year span starting on January 1, 2014. 

A quick look at details seems to point to these factors:

  • Inadequate mental health services
  • Inadequate health screenings
  • Isolation of inmates, especially those with mental health issues
  • Inadequate supervision to deter suicide and homicide

A recent article posted on ktvu.com took an in-depth look at all 45 inmate deaths, which included at least 17 suicides. There was also a tragic death of a man due to heart failure, after “he had been mistakenly arrested for the death of his wife.”

We have summarized the analysis below:

2014

  • Lawrence Edward Baslee Jr. — The 56-year-old inmate died of natural causes after a massive hemorrhage of the esophagus.
  • Yanet Diaz — The 33-year-old woman, arrested for disobeying domestic violence order and resisting arrest, had been classified as a “mental health inmate.” Detained in isolation, she hanged herself. 
  • Robert D. Moore Jr. — While in custody, the 30-year-old died of a lethal combination of drugs, which included methadone, hydrocodone, diphenhydramine, and sertraline.
  • Kevin Mark Hurd — The 41-year-old inmate held in jail three days committed suicide by handing.
  • Edward Laron Wilhite — The 40-year-old held in an isolation cell for one day died of acute cocaine toxicity.
  • Duoc Van Chau — The 38-year-old inmate had been incarcerated for 59 days before committing suicide by hanging while in isolation.
  • Bryan Todd Streicher — The 45-year-old inmate was obese. “His family alleges in a lawsuit that he had made several requests for a CPAP machine for his apnea and never received one.” He died on the top bunk of a cell gasping for air.
  • Roscil Rodgers — The 32-year-old inmate was in jail for 45 days before dying of liver and lung congestions.
  • Eric Steven Bueno — After three days in jail, the 46-year-old inmate committed suicide by hanging. He was found to have had methamphetamine in his system.
  • Lawrence James Monroe — The 28-year-old, who was arrested while intoxicated, died after one night in jail of acute alcoholism.

2015

  • Gary Clee Oldham — After two weeks in jail, the 37-year-old inmate was placed alone in an out-patient unit, where he committed suicide by hanging.
  • John Anthony Cornejo — On the day of his arrest, the 20-year-old died of acute methamphetamine intoxication.
  • Michael Anthony Brown — After four days in jail, the 28-year-old committed suicide by hanging.
  • Frank Beltram — The 49-year-old reportedly begged his mother to request that he be taken to a hospital for a lung ailment, but the jail claims he refused medical care. He was eventually taken to a hospital where he died of “cardiac insufficiency.”
  • Christopher Luis Daniel Angulo — The 34-year-old reportedly died of suicide by slitting his arm.
  • Mario Martinez — After jail superiors delayed surgery to remove “a nasal polyp blocking his airway,” the 29-yar-old died of “acute asthmatic respiratory insufficiency.”
  • Marquis “Leilani” Nathaniel Jackson — After four days in jail, the 33-year-old known epileptic died of “complications of chronic seizure disorder.”
  • John Jeffrey Bonardi — After 12 days in jail, the 48-year-old, who was the sole occupant of his cell, committed suicide by hanging.

2016

  • Melvin Stubbs Jr. — The 65-year-old widower was “wrongly arrested by Oakland police on suspicion of killing his wife, who was later determined to have died of natural causes.” His arrival at Santa Rita was delayed because he “had dangerously low blood sugar and diabetes.” After the hospital cleared him to go to jail, he died of cardiac failure after one day alone in the facility’s Outpatient Housing Unit. 
  • Balvir Singh — After two years and two months in jail, the 44-year-old inmate with a history of mental health problems and self-harming hanged himself in Housing Unit 9, a behavioral health unit, where he was alone in a “safety cell.”
  • Erik John Sigl — The 26-year-old inmate died at John Muir Hospital of a cerebral hemorrhage due to a brain tumor.
  • Dat Thanh Luong — The 56-year-old inmate was going to be sent to Napa State Hospital for mental health treatment, but was strangled in his cell. A 73-year-old cellmate was charged in his death.
  • Swaran Singh — The 41-year-old inmate died of natural causes linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Barry Heisner Jr. — The 44-year-old inmate had been in jail for 11 days when he committed suicide by handing.

2017

  • Christina Angelina Lamendola — The 38-year-old inmate died of a heart attack due to methamphetamine overdose while in an Outpatient Housing Unit. Cell 5 by herself. 
  • Nestor Zarsuela Aguilar — The 63-year-old, who suffered from hypertension, diabetes, and schizoaffective disorder, was put in administrative isolation in the Outpatient Housing Unit due to behavioral issues including spitting on deputies and banging his head. He died of a blood clot to the lungs, which caused cardiac arrest and cut off oxygen to his brain. He had been in jail for 12 days.
  • Antonio Rodriguez — The 27-year-old had been incarcerated 23 months when he was strangled by a cellmate after a fight.
  • Miguel Gomez — The 37-year-old was confined alone in a cell when he hanged himself. 
  • Mark “Marco” Anthony Laventure. Jr. — The 33-year-old with a history of bipolar disorder had been incarcerated two days when he succumbed to a lethal combination of methadone, methamphetamine, and amphetamine. 
  • Edwin Alexander Villalta — The 29-year-old decorated U.S. Marine with undisclosed health and mental issues perhaps related to combat PTSD was in jail for 18 days when he committed suicide by hanging. 

2018

  • Paul Wilbert Lee — Although in custody, the 49-year-old never made it to jail. He suffered a cardiac arrest on a sheriff’s bus and was taken to ValleyCare Medical Center. He was treated at several medical facilities and died about two months after his cardiac arrest.
  • Gino Dalbianco — The 58-year-old veteran had spent 56 days in jail before succumbing to a blood clot in his lung.
  • Logan McKinley Masterson — After two days in jail, including time in a safety cell due to suicidal thoughts, the 37-year-old hanged himself after suicide watch was canceled, and he was moved to isolation. His requests for mental health care were ignored.
  • Jesus Dametrius Dickey — After 65 days in jail, the 45-year-old suffered an accidental death due to a dangerously low level of sodium, perhaps due to drinking too much water. He had been the sole occupant of his cell for an extended period.
  • Dujuan Armstrong — The 23-year-old truck driver had been sentenced to weekend incarceration for 120 days, but died on day one. Cause of death was asphyxiation along with cardiac hypertrophy and obesity. The doctor who performed the autopsy stated that the tightness of wrist restraints and clinching straps, as well as an opaque spit mask, could have been a factor in causing distress. The coroner’s report noted that Armstrong tested positive for marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. 

2019

  • Cesar Augusto Pajuelo — The 70-year-old child sex offender had been in jail 29 days when he was killed by multiple blunt force blows. His 19-year-old cellmate was arrested on suspicion of murder.
  • Michael Hermon — The 47-year-old Gulf War veteran with a PhD in philosophy had been one month in jail when he died after being beaten by an unknown assailant. Severe cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholism exacerbated his injuries.
  • Omar Luis Porcayo — The 40-year-old construction worker had been in jail for six days. He died of complications due to heart disease at the ER of Stanford Valley Care Hospital in Pleasanton after having been found unresponsive in his “maximum separation” cell.  
  • Hector Antonio Hernandez-Ibarra — The 39-year-old died of natural, acute respiratory failure and pneumonia.
  • Christian Madrigal — The Madrigal family had requested police assistance to return the 20-year-old young man with mental health issues to a psychiatric hospital, but they arrested him instead “for being criminally under the influence.” The family alleges that Madrigal was beaten, choked, and placed in a WRAP device by police at the Fremont City jail. “Madrigal was then brought to Eden Medical Center where doctors diagnosed him as suffering from a lacerated spleen and liver along with bruising all over his body, including pulmonary contusions. He never recovered and died at Eden Medical Center in Hayward.”
  • Christopher Dean Thomas — The 44-year-old was “found partially suspended from a gate at the jail with a noose fashioned from a bedsheet around his neck….” He suffered an anoxic brain injury and died days later.
  • Raymond Reyes — After being kept in isolation for 19 days, the 22-year-old who suffered from social anxiety disorder hanged himself with bed sheets.
  • Ray Porter — The 66-year-old homeless inmate died of natural causes related to substance abuse and cancer.
  • Johnnie Leonard  — Details are unavailable, “a sheriff's spokesman said Leonard went into medical distress after snorting a substance in his holding cell.”
  • Christopher Crosby — The 31-year-old homeless inmate had been incarcerated one year and 10 months and prior to death had been held in isolation. The coroner’s report was not available, but facts point towards suicide by asphyxiation with a plastic bag. 

Critics of Santa Rita are crying out for reforms. They claim, among other points, that the high number of suicides who were kept in isolation points to mismanagement of distressed inmates. For their part, authorities say the inmate population reflects the mental health crisis seen throughout the Bay Area. 

Still, Jose Bernal of the Ella Baker Center, a nonprofit that works for jail reform, reminds us, “We’re talking about fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, neighbors. We’re talking about real human beings who left loved ones behind.” It’s time Santa Rita was held to account for the conditions which make it the most dangerous jail in the country.

If you or a loved one suffered death or catastrophic injuries at the hands of prison guards or jail staff, you may be entitled to damages. Visit our death in custody information page for more details. Ready to see if you have a case? CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

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Related topics: inmate death (22) | substandard care (17)


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