Criminal Investigation Underway Into Death of 23-Year-Old at Santa Rita Jail - NBC Bay Area
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Criminal Investigation Underway Into Death of 23-Year-Old at Santa Rita Jail

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    Criminal Investigation Underway Into Santa Rita Jail Death

    The unusual death of a Bay Area man while he was in the Santa Rita Jail for the weekend is now a criminal case. NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit learned of this major development through records requests because the Sheriff's Office refuses to discuss the death. Jaxon Van Derbeken reports.

    (Published Friday, June 21, 2019)

    With no prior offenses, a judge allowed Dujuan Armstrong to serve a month in custody and the rest of his burglary term on weekends in Santa Rita jail in Dublin — so he could support his family and keep his job as a tow truck driver.

    On June 22 of last year, the 23-year-old father of two — who had just learned he was going to be a father again — arrived to serve the third weekend of that unusual sentence.

    By the next day, he was dead.

    As the one year anniversary of his death on Sunday approaches, his girlfriend Chastity Williams and his family say they still know very little about what happened at the jail holding tank.

    At Williams’ apartment in West Oakland, Dujuan’s legacy is everywhere. His five month old son he never knew. A painting by a local artist of the couple at a Warriors’ championship parade.

    At her request, the artist gave Dujuan angel’s wings.

    "He was just an awesome person," Chastity Williams said as she sat alongside the portrait. "A beautiful soul. It’s very unfortunate that he is not even here anymore."

    Williams, 30, said she spoke to Dujuan on the phone the Friday night he arrived in custody.

    "I never thought anything was wrong," she said.

    Although she missed his calls as she slept early Saturday, she said she was expecting to have Sunday dinner with Dujuan in West Oakland after taking him home from the jail. Instead, she said she was made to wait for 90 minutes in the lobby of the jail and then taken to see a priest.

    "They go on to tell me that he was acting uncooperative with them," she recalled in an interview with NBC Bay Area’s investigative unit. "He passed out, and on his way to the hospital or at the hospital he passed away. I just looked at them, it seemed like the world stopped."

    According to a letter Sheriff Greg Ahern sent to the county Board of Supervisors two days later, Armstrong was pronounced dead at 7:32 p.m. on June 23 at Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare in Pleasanton.

    His mother says she is not even sure that is the day he died.

    "I’m not going to stop fighting for my son," Barbara Doss said in an interview with NBC Bay Area, surrounded by family members.

    She said after his death she went to the jail herself to find answers. But even a year later, she has not been given any more information – no autopsy findings and no video from jail security cameras or body cameras worn by deputies.

    "I don’t know what happened — I want to know what happened,” she said tearfully.

    In the letter Sheriff Ahern wrote to the board, he said "this inmate death is believed to be the result of a drug overdose. The cause of death will be confirmed pending results of the toxicology report."

    In April, the sheriff’s department produced an accounting of use of force cases under a new law that requires law enforcement to disclose records on them. The accounting reveals "multiple" unnamed deputies are under investigation and cited an ongoing criminal investigation in refusing to release documents.

    In January, Armstrong’s mother Barbara Doss confronted Ahern at a Sacramento meeting of the Lottery Commission he serves on. "I need answers," she told him. "I need to ease my mind. I need to know what you guys are covering up. You guys are covering up something" she said.

    "The answers don’t come from me," the sheriff told her. "I provide the documents and the footage to the District Attorney’s office which then reviews everything and they’re in the process of doing that."

    The family’s attorney, John Burris, says a year is just too long to wait for any answers.

    "All they’re really doing is victimizing the family," he said, "because every day they don’t get information they’re suffering. And they could prevent that suffering easily, by turning over whatever documents they have, release the coroner’s report, and allow the family to be able to understand and appreciate what in fact has taken place."

    Burris said the delay left him no choice but to file a wrongful death claim against the county with many key facts unknown.

    The year has taken a toll on Williams, who recently gave birth to Dujuan’s son, Omarea – his father’s middle name. Williams says she will soon return from maternity leave to work at the county’s department of social services.

    She says she has to mask her outrage to get by.

    "That’s the mask I was telling you about. The invisible mask that I have on. I deal with a lot internally. It’s really hard to push on with life knowing that he’s not here. He was everything."

    And through it all, she says, she feels that Dujuan’s spirit is always there to guide her. “Even though he is not here, he’s still helping me. Keeping me level-headed.”

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