An advocacy group and family members of a 26-year-old Berkeley woman found dead at the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station early Saturday morning are criticizing the Alameda County Sheriff's Office for releasing her from jail overnight, just hours before she was found dead.
Jessica St. Louis was released from Santa Rita Jail in Dublin at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday and was found dead at the BART station about four hours later.
Alameda County sheriff's officials said that a medical exam of St. Louis showed no signs of foul play and the preliminary indication is that she died from a drug overdose, although a toxicology report hasn't yet been completed.
Jessica Nowlan, the executive director of the Young Women's Freedom Center, a San Francisco group that advocates for women of color who have grown up in poverty and been incarcerated, said in a statement, "It was a death sentence to release Jessica in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere."
Nowlan said, "To send vulnerable system-involved women and girls into the streets at night, without access to support or even public transportation, is an act of violence."
She said, "All over the state of California women are being released into such dangerously unsafe conditions. We demand that this horrific practice stop now."
St. Louis' body was discovered near the passenger pick-up/drop-off area at the station, according to BART officials.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said today that St. Louis' death was "an unfortunate situation" but said the jail releases up to 100 people a day around the clock and can't keep people in custody after they're released.
"Not many people volunteer to stay in jail longer than they have to and most people who head out the door aren't walking back" to the jail, Kelly said.
He said it's a mile from Santa Rita Jail to the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station but noted it's a well-lit, heavily traveled and safe corridor that's patrolled by sheriff's deputies and Dublin police at all hours to make sure the community is safe.
He said the sheriff's office can arrange transportation to BART for people who request it.
"The real issue is that it appears that she (St. Louis) got some controlled substances after she left the jail and ingested them and died from it," Kelly said.
He said St. Louis didn't ingest any drugs when she was at the jail.
Kelly said she was in Santa Rita for 11 days for arrest warrants for a previous case.
He said she allegedly was involved in "low-level criminal activity" in the Emeryville and Berkeley areas.
Alameda County court records indicate that St. Louis was charged with felony grand theft for an offense last Nov. 16 and that she entered a not guilty plea on June 15.
Court records also indicate that she was charged with two misdemeanor counts of second-degree burglary and one count each of misdemeanor grand theft and misdemeanor vandalism for offenses last Sept. 29.
According to her family, St. Louis was born in Haiti and moved to the U.S. to live with her father when she was 7 years old after her mother died.
She was placed in foster care when she was in seventh grade and her father died when she was in high school.
In a statement, her family members said, "Jessica was one of the warmest and most loving people you would ever meet. She could talk to literally any person she met -- she made friends with everyone."
They said, "She had an openness to the world that people responded to and wanted to connect with. She really loved people and cared about each person's story. She was upset by others' suffering and deeply wanted to help others."
The family said, "What has happened to her is tragic and there are many questions that we want to be answered. There is no reason why Jessica should have been released in the middle of the night, alone and without any supportive services."
The family said, "While there is no way to bring Jessica back, we believe this should never happen to any other woman being released from a correctional facility again."