Jailhouse death preceded by excess force claim
March 14, 2014
By KAREN VELIE and JOSH FRIEDMAN
A 28-year-old man filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the San Luis Obispo Police Department claiming officers physically assaulted him. He died less than two weeks later just hours after another encounter with city police officers.
At 11:26 p.m. on Tuesday, police officers booked Josey Richard Meche into the San Luis Obispo County Jail for a charge of resisting arrest. After approximately an hour, jail staff discovered Meche unresponsive on the floor of his cell. He was transported to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center where he died a short time later, according to a press release.
Exactly a year earlier, on March 11, 2013, officers Jeff Middleton and Eric Vitale arrested Meche for throwing an object at a car and resisting arrest, according to court records. Meche said in his lawsuit that one of the officers dragged him around by a dog leash which lacerated his wrist and caused road burns on his face and upper body.
Because of his injuries, the officers transported Meche to a local hospital for medical care before booking him into jail, according to the suit.
On July 25, 2013, Meche filed a claim against the city, as required by law before filing a lawsuit. Shortly afterwards, the court approved a request to have Meche found mentally incompetent and to have him transferred to Atascadero State Hospital. However, Meche appealed the ruling and was subsequently deemed mentally competent, according to court records of the arrest.
Shortly after Meche was released from jail, on Dec. 27, San Luis Obispo police arrested him for stepping onto a crosswalk while the light was red. After his release from jail, police arrested Meche on Jan. 9 for panhandling.
Meche filed a lawsuit in federal court on Feb. 27 claiming the officers violated his civil rights under the color of authority. According to the suit, Meche suffered long lasting injuries because of the alleged excessive force.
“The individuals who violated my rights were participating in an official sanctioned arrest,” Meche says in his suit.
At about 10 p.m. on Tuesday, police received a report of a suspicious person walking through a yard and five officers responded, according to the police log. An hour and a half later, the officers booked Meche into the San Luis Obispo County Jail for resisting arrest. A few hours later, he was pronounced dead.
The San Luis Obispo County Coroner’s Office is investigating Meche’s death and will perform an autopsy to determine the cause.