Since March 1, four inmates in Los Angeles County jails have died. None of the deaths, which occurred at three different jails, appear to be the result of foul play. The latest death appears to have been a suicide.
Advocates are troubled by the wave of deaths, however, considering the county’s history of neglect and misconduct within the jails. There were a total of 21 and 20 jail fatalities in 2015 and 2016, respectively—averaging out to 1.7 deaths per month.
On March 1, a 64-year-old man, who had been arrested the previous week for possession of meth, was found “unresponsive” at Twin Towers and declared dead 24 minutes later.
On March 3, a 43-year-old man arrested for a parole violation was found unresponsive at North County Correctional Facility, and was declared dead an hour later.
Two days later, on March 5, a 72-year-old man arrested for a battery charge was found on the floor of his Men’s Central Jail cell during a 2:20a.m. security check. The man was treated for a head injury, and was scheduled to go to the hospital. At 5:50a.m., staff found the man “not breathing” while sitting in a wheelchair outside of the jail nursing station. He was pronounced dead 48 minutes after that.
Then, last Thursday, a 48-year-old Twin Towers inmate charged with robbery died at the hospital. He had been placed on life support after being found unresponsive in his cell with his shirt around his head.
Any death that occurs behind bars “should raise a lot of questions,” SoCal ALCU’s Esther Lim told KPCC’s Frank Stoltze, who broke the story. “It’s hard to know what really happened to these people.” Lim monitors overcrowding, violence, and other issues within LA’s jails for the ACLU. (In 2011, Lim watched two LASD deputies beat an unconscious inmate at Twin Towers Correctional Facility, while repeatedly ordering the inmate to “stop fighting” and “stop resisting.”)
A 2016 wrongful death lawsuit also raises questions about conditions in a Los Angeles County’s women’s jail. Unique Moore, a 37-year-old mentally ill and asthmatic inmate woke up and couldn’t breathe early one morning in November 2014, and called desperately for her medical inhaler, which she was not permitted to keep in her cell. After she died, sheriff’s department officials said jail deputies did all they could. Inmate witnesses and a lawsuit filed by Moore’s parents say otherwise. (Read Art Levine’s investigation into Moore’s death for WitnessLA.)
In 2015, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell agreed to provide better health care to inmates, in addition to increasing the frequency of welfare checks on inmates. The changes were part of a settlement agreement between the US Department of Justice and the county regarding the treatment of mentally ill inmates.
The sheriff’s department says it is “working diligently and collaboratively with our Department of Justice partners to come into full compliance with 69 provisions of a multi-year settlement agreement.”
The LA Coroner’s Office will investigate and determine the causes of each of the March deaths.
Head over to KPCC for the rest of the story.