A 33-year-old man who died in custody Monday morning at the Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose was arrested twice this month and declined to move into an observation cell a week before his death, sheriff’s officials said Tuesday.
The man’s name was not released Tuesday evening because his next of kin has not been notified, Sheriff Laurie Smith said.
The Santa Clara County medical examiner’s office has not yet determined a cause of death and an autopsy is pending, Smith said.
On Monday around 10:30 a.m., a deputy conducting normal routine checks at the jail’s North tower saw the inmate in medical distress, which prompted mental health staff to evaluate him, said Undersheriff John Hirokawa, chief of corrections.
Nursing staff is housed 24 hours per day at the area where the inmate was held and investigators are speaking with witnesses, sheriff’s Sgt. James Jensen said.
Custody staff provided first aid and performed CPR on the inmate.
Firefighters and emergency medical service providers were also called to help the man, who was pronounced dead shortly after 11 a.m., sheriff’s officials said.
Deputies arrested the man on Sept. 5 on suspicion of two counts of assault involving separate victims in unincorporated San Jose, Hirokawa said.
The 33-year-old claimed he was also assaulted and was transported to a hospital to be evaluated, according to Hirokawa.
While receiving medical attention, he allegedly assaulted and battered a hospital employee in an unprovoked attack, according to Hirokawa.
Once the man was medically cleared, he was booked into county jail on suspicion of three counts of assault, Hirokawa said.
The man was released on Sept. 19 for time served and was arrested the next day by Milpitas police on suspicion of two counts of assault and being drunk in public, according to Hirokawa.
The man was also found to have a traffic warrant that was later dismissed, Smith said.
On Sept. 21, a week before the inmate died, deputies noticed a behavioral change in the inmate, who was being uncooperative and hitting his cell door with his fist, Hirokawa said.
The deputies requested an evaluation by custody health staff, who recommended the inmate be moved to an observation cell, according to Hirokawa said.
Later that night at about 8:45 p.m., the inmate refused to move out of the cell despite repeated requests by staff that continued for about 90 minutes, Hirokawa said.
Afterwards, custody staff followed department protocol to extract the inmate from his cell, according to Hirokawa.
First, staff used pepper spray that had no effect on the inmate, Hirokawa said.
They then used two bursts of clear-out spray, a concentrated version of pepper spray, which was released into the cell but also had no effect on the man, according to Hirokawa.
Staff waited a few minutes between each spray to allow the chemicals to take their course on the man and told him to come out of the cell, but he refused their orders, Hirokawa said.
Staff fired two air-powered plastic projectiles a minute apart, which also had no effect on the inmate, according to Hirokawa.
Under department protocol, such projectiles are supposed to be aimed at the torso, Hirokawa said.
About three to four deputies entered the cell to physically remove the inmate, who was placed in handcuffs and showered to clean off the chemicals from the sprays, according to Hirokawa.
The inmate was checked out by custody health staff, sent to a hospital shortly before 11:30 p.m. and returned to the jail facility shortly after 3 a.m. the next day, Hirokawa said.
Monday’s incident marks the sixth in-custody death this year compared to eight in all of 2014, Jensen said.
Smith could not disclose the inmate’s medical history or mental state because of medical confidentiality laws.
A death investigation is taking place by sheriff’s detectives and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
The sheriff’s internal affairs unit is looking to see if there were any policy violations by staff in the death, Jensen said.
The death comes about a month after another inmate, Michael James Tyree, was found dead on Aug. 27 in the Main Jail after allegedly being beaten by correctional deputies there.
Three deputies – Jereh Lubrin, Rafael Rodriguez and Matthew Farris – have been charged with murder in the case.