Rally held after Santa Clara County jail inmate's death

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Posted: Sep 04, 2015 10:55 PM
Rally held after Santa Clara County jail inmate's death

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — About 50 people marched Friday in protest at Santa Clara County Main Jail to demand inmates be protected from abuse after an inmate was beaten to death last week under the watch of three deputies now facing possible murder charges.

Three jail guards were arrested Thursday, a week after an inmate, later identified as 31-year-old Michael James Pipkin Tyree, was found dead in his cell of multiple blunt trauma, internal bleeding and lacerations, authorities said.

Santa Clara County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. James Jensen has identified the deputies as Rafael Rodriguez, 27, Jereh Lubrin, 28, and Matthew Farris, 27.

As the district attorney reviews the cases for possible murder charges, activists called for those charges to be filed.

"We're out here today to let those that are inside know that there's a community outside these walls that support them and are concerned about their safety considering our Santa Clara County jail is now officially a murder scene," said Raj Jayadev, an activist with Silicon Valley De-Bug, a civil rights group.

Jayadev said part of the protest was to make certain inmates know that they can come forward about issues they've had with correctional officers without fear of retaliation.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen has until Tuesday to file charges or the three could be released.

Jayadev said the group has heard complaints before from people who have been detained.

"We see the responsibility is now on the Sheriff's Office and county officials to prove that it's not systemic. The ball is squarely in their court. By no means could this be looked at as everyone's going to wash their hands and say the problem has been solved."

On Thursday afternoon following the arrests, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith apologized to Tyree's family and said "the disappointment and disgust I feel cannot be overstated."

She said the three officers, who she called "accused murderers," were treated as anyone else as they were handcuffed, booked and locked in protective custody in the same jail where Tyree was killed. They've since been transferred to an unnamed facility for their own protection, she said.

Exactly what happened leading up to Tyree's death remains unclear.

Last Thursday, Tyree and other inmates in his jail wing were securely locked in their cells when the beating apparently took place. Smith refused to provide details but said the three officers were conducting a routine clothing search and left the wing.

She said about an hour later one officer re-entered the cell and issued a "man down" call. Tyree, naked and covered in feces and vomit, was declared dead by responding paramedics.

Smith said she apologized directly to two of Tyree's sisters earlier Thursday, and repeated her profound sorrow over his death.

Smith said the day after Tyree was declared dead, the guards — who had begun working their regular shift — were removed from duty, stripped of their weapons, uniforms and peace officer status. It took several more days for them to be arrested.

They are on unpaid administrative leave, Smith said.

Attorney Paula Canny, representing Tyree's family, commended the sheriff for an extraordinary response.

"This could have been dragged out," Canny said.

Canny urged community members to think about how we, as a system, treat mentally ill people and said she hopes the district attorney will bring the officers to justice.

Attempts to reach relatives of the deputies were unsuccessful.

Tyree was homeless and awaiting transfer to a mental-health facility when he died. He was serving a five-day sentence on a petty theft charge.