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Thursday, Jun 12, 2014 - Last Blog on Earth | News

Law enforcement review board finds deputy error in inmate suicide

It's the second recent instance where procedural violation may have played a role

By Kelly Davis
sandiegojail San Diego Central Jail
In the last nine months, the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), the independent oversight body charged with investigating deaths-in-custody and allegations of law-enforcement misconduct, has twice found that San Diego County sheriff's deputies violated policy and procedure in instances of inmate suicides.

The most recent involves Jose Sierra, a 27-year-old Mexican citizen who'd been arrested for being under the influence of a controlled substance and was awaiting trial. On April 17, 2013, Sierra was found hanging in his cell in the county's Central Jail. 
A summary of the incident in CLERB's June agenda suggests that Sierra had hung himself with the help of an "unauthorized laundry line" that deputies noticed in his cell, but didn't order him to remove. Its removal, the summary says, "may have prevented Sierra from carrying out the suicide." Here's the full summary: 
During a security, check Deputies 1 and 2 discovered Sierra hanging from a bed-sheet in his single occupancy locked cell; he was transported to UCSD Medical Center where he was later pronounced dead. During the previous security check, Deputies 1 and 2 observed and unauthorized laundry line affixed to the top bunk in Sierra's cell, and failed to take corrective action per Sheriff's Polices & Procedures. Deputies 1 & 2 failed to remove the unauthorized laundry line or confront Sierra to direct its removal, actions which may have prevented Sierra from carrying out the suicide at that time. The Medical Examiner determined the cause of death was due to hanging, and the manner of death as suicide. 
Inmates usually commit suicide by tying a bed sheet (torn into strips) or a piece of clothing around a bunk post or door handle and then lean forward to strangle themselves. It's not clear how Sierra used the laundry line in conjunction with the bed sheet, or whether the laundry line was made from a torn bed sheet. The medical examiner's report is light on details, saying only that deputies "observed him hanging by the neck" and that the detective assigned to the case "did not know where or how the sheet was tied."  

In October, CLERB found that a deputy violated policy and procedure by logging a security check on a mentally ill inmate, Anna Wade, that didn't actually happen. Checks are supposed to happen hourly, but two hours passed between when Wade was last seen alive and when she was found hanging in her cell on April 28, 2013. CLERB ultimately found that "there was insufficient evidence to determine if a mandated security check... could have precluded this suicide in any way." CityBeat reported on Wade's death in October. 

CLERB's not yet reviewed the case of Dervin Bowman, who was found hanging in his Central Jail cell on Nov. 17, 2013. A medical examiner's reported noted that Bowman, who was able-bodied, had been placed in a cell for disabled inmates that contained a movable chair. The report suggests that, if not for the chair, Bowman wouldn't have been able to tie the end of a torn bed sheet to an overhead fire sprinkler. Bowman's case wasn't turned over to CLERB for review until two months ago, when CityBeat asked about it. 

 
 
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