Did lack of oversight lead to jail deaths?
January 1, 2015
By KAREN VELIE
A San Luis Obispo County Jail inmate, who died from a heroin overdose, had not been seen by jail personnel for more than 10 hours when deputies became aware of his death, according to the coroner’s report.
Timothy Richard Janowicz was one of three inmates who died in the men’s jail in 2014. Inmates have access to drugs, hypodermic needles and other forms of contraband while deputies fail to follow procedures for cell checks.
In all three cases, sheriff’s department staff allegedly failed to either provide medical assistance or to check on inmates as required by department policy. Several former inmates and local attorneys contend conditions at the jail are so poor that multiple inmates have marred skin from the widespread incidences of staph infections and a lack of adequate medical care.
On Jan. 23, Josey Meche, 28, died from a drug overdose after flailing on a concrete cell floor for more than 20 minutes, according to the coroner’s report. Until he stopped moving, deputies offered him no assistance.
In March, Rudy Joseph Silva, 35, was discovered unconscious in his cell. He was transported to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center where he died of influenza and a staphylococcus infection four days later. Jail mates claim he was sick for several days with major coughing fits, but did not receive the medical care he pleaded for until he was no longer conscious.
On May 30, Janowicz, 29, was found dead in his cell. Several weeks later, the sheriff’s department sent out a press release saying that Janowicz died of a heroin overdose, but refused to release the June 24 autopsy report, in violation of the California Public Records Act.
On Dec. 18, following more than a half dozen records requests, the sheriff’s department released both the autopsy and coroner’s report which describe bruises, gashes and multiple needle marks on Janowicz’ body.
According to the coroner’s report, after six months in the county jail, Janowicz died from an accidental overdose of heroin injected with a hypodermic needle.
Jail personnel had not seen Janowicz from between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m, according to the coroner’s report. More than 10 hours later, at 5:45 a.m., deputies entered the eight man cell after hearing inmates yelling, “man down.”
“The last time the decedent was seen alive was at approximately 1900 to 1930 hours on 05-25-2014,” the coroner’s report says.
Nevertheless, Sheriff Public Information Officer Tony Cipolla said that deputies check on inmates every 30 minutes.
“Deputies enter housing units for direct observation at least once every thirty minutes,” Cipolla said in an email.
At 6:40 p.m., a deputy called for Janowicz asking him to participate in a clothing exchange. However, Janowicz did not respond and another inmate told the deputy Janowicz did not need any clothing, the report says.
After hearing inmates yelling, “man down,” deputies entering the cell and discovered Janowicz dead in his bed with a bloody contusion on the back of his head and a hematoma on his abdomen. Included in his possessions was a homemade billy club, a weapon generally used for protection.
Even though Janowicz had multiple needle marks on his left arm and one on his right arm, the deputies did not find any needles or drugs in the eight-man cell, according to the autopsy and coroner’s reports.
“Inmates sanitized their cell of any contraband then called, ‘Man down’ at which time correctional staff responded and discovered Janowicz deceased,” the coroner’s report says.
The report says, Janowicz’ cellmates found him slumped over on the cell bars at an undisclosed time. The inmates then moved Janowicz to their cell eating area where they splashed water on his face, but were unable to arouse Janowicz.
The inmates then carried Janowicz to his bunk so that he could “sleep it off.”
The coroner’s report does not mention how drugs and needles are getting into the hands of prisoners. In addition, sheriff coroner investigators determined the contusion on back of his head and the hematoma on his abdomen had nothing to do with his death.
Meanwhile, the inmate death rate at the men’s jail, with a population this summer of 551 prisoners, is more than three times the national average.
During the past year, three men died in the men’s jail or .54 percent of inmates, while the nation average is .13 percent, according to Federal Bureau of Justice statistics data.
Of the seven Los Angeles County Jails, the Twin Towers Jail had the highest percentage of inmate deaths in 2014, according to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. In Los Angeles County, inmates suffering from severe mental illness or who have expressed suicidal thoughts are housed in the The Twin Towers facility.
With seven deaths in 2014 out of a population of 3,276 inmates, the Twin Towers Jail had a .19 percent death rate, which is less than half San Luis Obispo County Jail’s .54 percent per-capita death rate. Of the seven deaths at the Twin Towers, two were suicides and five were from natural causes.
Following several years of complaints that deputies at Los Angeles County Jails were neglecting, abusing and committing crimes against inmates, the FBI stepped in to investigate. After 18 of his sheriff deputies were charged with criminal mistreatment of inmates, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca stepped down in Jan. 2014.
If you have information about the conditions at the San Luis Obispo County Jail, please contact Karen Velie at (805) 234-1703.
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