Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 12
An inmate's suicide prompts the grand jury to make safety recommendations for Santa Barbara County jail
BY JEREMY THOMAS
The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury is recommending changes to the county jail’s safety procedures, in response to the 2011 suicide of an inmate housed in isolation.
Last July, jail guards discovered 29-year-old Juan Rodriguez-Zepeda asphyxiated in his “safety cell,” a plastic bag tied over his head with fabric torn from his mattress. The inmate had been dead for several hours by the time paramedics arrived.
His death led to an investigation by the grand jury, which released a report on May 24. In it, the jury concluded that procedures regarding safety checks in single-person cells weren’t followed, and made several recommendations. Among them, the jury determined guards should be required to check cells more frequently, and to wake inmates to determine if they’re breathing when not readily apparent. They found that alcoves in several isolation wing jail cells allowed inmates’ heads to be hidden from view, and recommended they be filled in.
The jury also recommended that the jail institute round-the-clock video surveillance of isolation cell corridors, ensure plastic bags aren’t left in cells, and have jail mental health workers monitor inmates’ treatment requests for triggers of suicidal behavior.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars said the sheriff’s office wouldn’t comment on the report until it releases its official written response to the jury. The department has 90 days to answer the findings and recommendations, which aren’t legally binding.
According to the grand jury’s report, prior to the suicide, inmates in nearby cells reported Rodriguez-Zepeda had complained of pain. Jail mental health staff reported he appeared to have chronic anxiety, but the inmate had refused mental help. He had more than 26 sick call requests for which he was treated.
“Several times during his four months in the Main Jail, he also requested to be moved to other cells saying he feared for his safety,” the report states. “When the decedent’s family was questioned by the coroner, it was learned that they were not aware of any emotional or mental health issues.”
The deceased inmate had been housed in the isolation wing of the jail for more than a month, the report described, and was found dead with his head hidden by an alcove wall.
According to the report, 14 inmates attempted suicide in Santa Barbara’s Main Jail from 2009 to 2011.