Two San Diego County sheriff’s deputies failed to provide medical treatment to a man who was found unconscious in his jail cell and died in custody, an independent oversight committee has found.
Lazaro Alvarez, 40, died on November 22, 2020, just hours after being taken into custody for trespassing.
The medical examiner’s office later said Alvarez died of a heart attack caused by methamphetamine and fentanyl, and the death was classified as an accident.
An assistant started cardiopulmonary resuscitation but stopped after giving two chest compressions, “so as not to want to disrupt a crime scene,“ the county’s Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board said in a finding that will be discussed at a public meeting on Tuesday. A second assistant did not help the inmate, according to the independent review.
“Deputy 1 did not provide emergency medical care to Alvarez,” investigators on the review panel found. “According to the Commission on Standards and Training of Peace Officers, when the situation involves a medical emergency, peace officers take on the role of EMS first responder.
“POST training indicates that if there is any doubt as to whether a victim is alive, then CPR should be started,” and continues until additional help arrives, the exam notes.
The results also indicate that Assistant 1 was not carrying naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.
“Since the incident, (the policy) has been updated to require MPs to carry naloxone with them,” the review panel investigators wrote.
The findings of the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board contradict the statement by the Sheriff’s Department when it announced Alvarez’s death in March, four months after his death.
“Just after 4 a.m. on November 22, 2020, San Diego Central Jail deputies found inmate Lazaro Alvarez, 40, unconscious in his cell,” the department said in its press release. “MPs and medical staff immediately took rescue action until relieved by firefighters.”
The sheriff’s department declined to respond to a request for comment on why the independent findings contradicted its March press release – beyond issuing a statement saying officials value the commission’s work. ‘exam.
“The San Diego Sheriff’s Department strongly supports the CLERB and its commitment to increasing public confidence and the accountability of law enforcement officers,” the statement said.
“We welcome their recommendations and continually strive to make improvements in all aspects of our service. “
The two MPs, who have not been identified due to state confidentiality laws, declined to be interviewed by review committee investigators, as is their right under an agreement of long standing with the San Diego County Association of Deputy Sheriffs.
Alvarez was arrested for trespassing on November 21, 2020 and was to be cited and released.
According to the review board’s investigation, MPs checked Alvarez almost every hour from 11 p.m. on the night of his arrest. The department imposes hourly “security checks”, but does not require deputies to confirm that an inmate is alive.
“As security checks do not require proof of life, the last time Alvarez was alive was on 11/21/20 at 11:20 p.m. after interaction with a release assistant,” the report said.
Paul Parker, executive director of the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, said it became clear during his investigation that the camera inside the holding cell where Alvarez died was not working.
Broken or non-operational surveillance cameras inside county jails have been a recurring problem for the sheriff’s department, the review board executive said.
“The camera in (Alvarez’s) cell was unusable and we want the San Diego Sheriff’s Department to prioritize the use of cells with cameras over those without cameras,” Parker said in an e- mail Monday.
Parker said the board raised the issue of unusable cameras in George Bailey’s detention center and the sheriff’s department told him the situation would be resolved after the new Rock Mountain jail opened.
The Rock Mountain facility at Otay Mesa is a former private prison under renovation by the Sheriff’s Department. The project cost millions of dollars and is years behind schedule, according to an earlier county grand jury report.
The department statement said command staff were dissatisfied with the current surveillance system and recognized the need to improve it.
“Our inability to tell the whole story or to be completely transparent when incidents occur in prison is unacceptable,” he said. “The cameras in the prison system are getting old and not always reliable. “
The ministry has identified a new wireless system and is currently considering a system-wide upgrade, officials said, without providing a timeline.
In an investigation released earlier this year into the suicide death of 33-year-old Joseph Morton, the board found that video cameras inside the Vista detention center were also broken, meaning the Investigators were unable to verify whether MPs correctly checked Morton in his final hours. of life.
Morton’s family filed a lawsuit against the county in August, arguing that prison medical staff did not take Morton’s threats of self-harm seriously.
In its report on Alvarez’s death, the review board made a pair of recommendations aimed at preventing future detainees from receiving the inadequate level of medical care that the board said was provided to Alvarez.
Specifically, the review board said the sheriff’s department should require lawmakers to verify an inmate is alive during routine security checks on vulnerable people.
The review committee also recommends that staff at San Diego Central Prison only use cells with working cameras, unless all cells with working cameras are already in use.
Alvarez was one of 13 people to die in custody at San Diego Prison in 2020. So far this year, 16 people have died, making it one of the deadliest years in the history of the prison despite a reduced prison population due to COVID-19 protocols.
For more than a decade, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department has had the highest prison death rate among California’s largest counties, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune analysis.
Bill Gore, the three-time-elected sheriff, announced earlier this year that he does not plan to run again when his final term expires next year.