Law enforcement review board dismisses 22 in-custody death cases

SAN DIEGO – More than 20 people have died in San Diego County jails or in the Sheriff’s Department's custody within the last six years. Tuesday night, the citizens' panel tasked with reviewing those deaths decided to dismiss all 22 cases without investigation.

At the meeting of the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board, which lasted three hours, at least 10 people showed up to speak against the proposed decision.

“If the goal of this is to increase public confidence...then this decision would not be consistent with that mission,” said one woman.

“The community doesn’t trust investigations that are done by internal investigations,” said another opponent.

Despite the opposition, in a closed-door session, the board voted for dismissal.

The proposed dismissals all involve jail and other in-custody deaths that occurred between 2011 and 2016 and could have possibly involved deputy misconduct.

“Any case that it's been too long and CLERB no longer has jurisdiction, that staff is going to move to dismiss those cases,” said Alex Bell, County Spokeswoman.

Bell cited a law that protects officer rights and keeps such cases from hanging over a deputy’s head for more than a year.

“All 22 of these cases have been investigated. There’s been a criminal investigation which is a separate entity,” said Bell. “The Sheriff’s Department investigates all deaths in their facilities.”

At the board meeting, Sue Quinn, a former CLERB Executive Officer and one of the first investigators, blasted the current board.

“We have seen CLERB not meet its mission for a long time now and it’s very important for them to be doing these important cases. That’s my point,” said Quinn.

Quinn said the cases dismissed represent the most serious and for them to be backlogged is inexcusable.

“Those investigations have languished while lesser cases went forward,” said Quinn. “To dismiss those without investigation is wrong.”

In October, the panel had 59 open death investigations on its docket -- cases that included everything from suspected suicides and officer-involved shootings to inmate homicides and possible restraint. The number is an increase from the 46 death cases in January.

Bell said this was the first time the board dismissed any cases and hopefully, it will be the last.

“They don’t plan on doing this ever again. They want to make sure they get to every single one of their cases moving forward,” said Bell.