A Santa Clara County inmate accused of raping a young child died in custody early Thursday by what officials are calling an apparent suicide. According to the Sheriff’s Office, deputies found the 72-year-old man unconscious on the floor of his cell in Elmwood Correctional Facility’s M4-D unit.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Reggie Cooks said custody staff immediately tried to revive the inmate using First Aid and CPR. But paramedics pronounced him dead 26 minutes later.
Authorities will withhold the man’s name until his family is notified. Per standard protocol, the Sheriff’s Office has assigned detectives to investigate the in-custody death with help from the District Attorney’s Office.
While the investigation is still underway, authorities said the preliminary indicators suggest that the inmate took his own life.
The inmate had been locked up since Monday when he was booked on suspicion of 10 felony counts of having sex with a minor.
According to data obtained through a formal records request, the county’s two jails reported 41 attempted suicides since 2012 and a dozen suicide deaths since 2011. That’s a slightly higher suicide rate than the national average for county jails. Two of those local jail fatalities occurred last year.
Thirty-five-year-old Cupertino resident Shane Varaiya died by suicide in June after nearly a month in custody. In April, 48-year-old Patrick Missud—a disbarred attorney and vexatious litigant—jumped to his death from the upper level of the M-8 dorm at Elmwood in Milpitas.
It’s unclear why Missud wasn’t flagged as a mental health risk during his intake at jail and why he wasn’t placed on suicide watch. About seven months before his arrest, the South Bay resident was all over the TV news for being involved in a six-hour standoff in which he tried to incite police into shooting him outside San Francisco City Hall.
At least one Main Jail suicide resulted in litigation against the county, which a judge dismissed last month. The mother and young son of Hector Lozano—an inmate who suffered from severe paranoid schizophrenia—claimed that jail staff should have done more to prevent his death.
According to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Lozano’s family, the inmate had an extensive history of mental illness, suffered acute psychotic episodes behind bars and was repeatedly placed on observation with 15-minute welfare checks. But on the day he died, May 15, 2015, the jail allegedly took no such precautions.
Though Michael Mannstock—a county social worker and the last person to evaluate Lozano on the day of his suicide—called the inmate’s behavior “consistent with chronic psychosis,” records show that didn’t recommend his transfer from his solitary cell in 246 East Max. Hours later, according to the lawsuit, Lozano “did exactly what he said he would do” and hung himself with his bed sheets. He was 33.
On his suicide note, he wrote: “I kill myself because of the voices that I hear.”
County officials told San Jose Inside that the vast majority of the 750-plus sworn jail deputies have undergone suicide prevention training since Lozano’s death. The county has also allocated $1.4 million to build floor-to-ceiling suicide prevention barriers in the upper tiers at both Elmwood and the Main Jail. Several other suicide prevention measures are underway as part of a reform effort spurred by the 2015 murder of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree at the hand of three jail guards.
Though Superior Court Judge Edward J. Davila dismissed the Lozano case on Dec. 20 because he didn’t think the defendants should be personally liable for the suicide, he called the circumstances of the case “disturbing and disappointing.”
“The prison staff made a determination that an inmate under their care and supervision, who had a lengthy history of serious mental illness, including being frequently diagnosed as actively suicidal, should be housed in solitary confinement shortly after a routine examination where a prison staff member came to the conclusion that Lozano was no longer at risk of harming himself,” Davila wrote in his decision. “Tragically, despite that decision—or because of it—he committed suicide in the solitary cell where he was placed. Although the conduct of the individual prison officials may not have risen to the level of deliberate indifference, this case sadly brings attention to the level of care and treatment of those in our prisons and jails who wait for adjudication while under the presumption of innocence or are serving a sentence following conviction. The prison, perhaps at a systemic level, wholly failed to protect the welfare of one of its most vulnerable inmates. Because Mannstock’s personal conduct did not rise to the level of deliberate indifference he is entitled to summary judgment. But the circumstances of this case remain troubling and raise serious concerns about a prison system that houses inmates with severe mental illness and suicidal tendencies in solitary confinement.”