Prior to reporting in March that between 2007 and 2012 San Diego County had the highest mortality rate among California's 10 largest jail systems, we shared our data with Patrick Hunter, executive director of the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), which is charged with investigating allegations of abuse and deaths in county jails.
"CLERB is not familiar with the data and the rates presented in this table," Hunter responded via email.
At CLERB's May 14 meeting—two weeks after we ran the fifth story in our jail-deaths series—CLERB member Louis Wolfsheimer suggested that Hunter "define the board's role in a public statement" regarding jail-death investigations.
That public statement was made at CLERB's July 9 meeting, where Hunter summarized the board's role per the county's charter: "to review and investigate" the death of any individual that could have resulted from abuse, negligence or a procedural lapse by county law enforcement. As part of that investigation, Hunter said, CLERB is to consider "if policy and procedural recommendations are appropriate."
But CLERB's recommendations over the last six years have been infrequent, often ignored and, in one case, too late.
In 2008, after the suicide of Adrian Correa, a 21- year-old paranoid schizophrenic who'd threatened to kill himself multiple times, CLERB expressed concern about a breakdown in communication during shift changes and suggested steps to help deputies better monitor at-risk inmates. The sheriff rejected the recommendation.
Jeffrey Dewall died in 2008 from excessive restraint, but it took CLERB three years to issue policy recommendations. By then, inmate Tommy Tucker had died due to similar restraint techniques.
In May, CLERB found "no evidence to support an allegation of misconduct or negligence" in the death of Sean Wallace, a bipolar, schizophrenic who'd repeatedly said he planned to kill himself and had been moved back and forth from a safety cell to the general population several times. Wallace told medical staff he was "doing fine," according to an investigative summary in CLERB's May 14 meeting agenda, "resulting in him being cleared from safety cell placement and returned to mainline housing."
On April 23, 2011, 48 minutes after he'd been moved back to the general population, Wallace was found hanging from his bunk by a bed sheet torn into strips.
Lindsay Hayes, a suicide-prevention expert with the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, told CityBeat that inmates who pose even a "moderate" risk of killing themselves should be monitored every 15 minutes, high-risk inmates more frequently.
CLERB found that jail staff "responded according to Department policy and procedure each time Wallace expressed suicidal ideations."
Hunter told CityBeat last week that he couldn't comment on specific cases but assured that CLERB reviews every aspect of a death case and makes policy and procedural recommendations when warranted.