SAN DIEGO — San Diego County and the local sheriff’s department are being sued over the region’s high number of in-custody deaths, an issue that’s factored prominently in the race to become the next sheriff.
Attorneys and a local racial justice organization held a news conference outside the Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego Thursday in support of the lawsuit. Representatives with the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego and the North County Equity and Justice Coalition spoke alongside impacted family members.
“He died July 20 in San Diego County Jail off of fentanyl and I still don’t have no damn answers, and his birthday is tomorrow. I’m mad,” said Sabrina Weddle, one of the family members.
Weddle’s 22 year-old brother died a day before his court date. Weddle said the sheriff’s department told her the cause of death was suspected overdose.
Weddle said: “It’s been almost 365 days that my brother has been gone and we still don’t have answers.”
“I’m hurt, I’m angry the majority of the time,” she added.
Tammy Wilson, whose husband died while in custody said: “I’ve gotten no answers from the sheriff’s department, they released no information.”
Wilson lost her 33 year-old husband Jan. 6, 2021. She said that on the day of his arrest, she had called for mental health help for her husband.
“He was not drunk or in public, and they arrested him anyways,” she said. “In less than twelve hours later he was dead.”
ACLU of Southern California, DLA Piper, Law Office of Rosen Bien Galven, and Grunfeld and Law Office of Aaron Ficher are suing San Diego County, the sheriff’s department and the department’s contractors of care over the rise of in-custody deaths.
A state audit earlier this year found San Diego County has one of the highest in-custody death rates in the state with 185 deaths from 2006 to 2020.
The audit looked at 30 cases and concluded the department failed to prevent and respond to in-custody deaths. The audit points out lacking policies and procedures, including denying or delaying mental and medical care, plus not properly checking inmate cells.
The department reported 18 deaths in 2021, and 10 so far in 2022.
“Enough is enough and we need reform now. Not one more family do we need to add to this list,” said Yusef Miller, with the North County Equity and Justice Coalition.
“The county has known for years about these problems,” said Van Swearingen, one of the attorney’s on the lawsuit. Swearingen is an attorney for the Law Office of Rosen Bien Galven and Grunfeld.
“To demand changes, to demand reforms, to recognize that going to jail should not be a death sentence. For the grieving families here the testaments of how awful things are,” Swearingen said.
“And its not fair, what are they hiding, why they just be honest with the family members,” Wilson added.
The sheriff’s office told FOX 5, they are declining comment due to pending litigation. Lawyers of the lawsuit will be back in federal court downtown San Diego Aug. 11 at 2 p.m.