The three Santa Clara County correctional deputies charged with murdering an inmate and assaulting another listened to testimony Wednesday from one of their alleged victims.
Inmate Juan Villa was allegedly beaten up by deputies the same night Michael Tyree was found dead outside his cell on August 26, 2015. The preliminary hearing for deputies Jereh Lubrin, 29, Rafael Rodriguez, 27, and Matthew Ferris, 27, continued Wednesday with Villa taking the stand.
The deputies face possible trial for the alleged beating death Tyree as well as "assault under the color of authority" for a suspected attack on Villa. Both inmates had histories of mental illness.
Tyree was scheduled to be released prior to the alleged beating, but officials kept him in jail "for protection." To prove there is enough evidence to move both cases to trial, prosecutor Matt Braker put Villa on the stand.
Although he struggled at times to keep from rambling, Villa identified each deputy by name and testified how the three "beat the crap out of him non-stop" for 15 minutes. Villa said he had "self locked" himself into his cell after getting into a fight with another inmate. But he said, after he slammed his door shut in anger, Lubrin led a charge at him, saying, "Why did you slam my door?'"
Villa said Rodriguez hit him on the forehead, Lubrin punched him in the mouth and Ferris put the inmate into a headlock. Villa testified he used "sissy words" to apologize throughout the fight and never fought back because he feared they'd kill him.
In a key moment, Villa said, after the deputies left him in his cell, they went to another cell and he heard another inmate "screaming." He said he found out much later Tyree had been found dead outside his cell. The testimony drew gasps and emotional sighs from the family of Michael Tyree.
Michael's sister, Elizabeth Ott, there with husband and baby, told NBC Bay Area she couldn't believe anyone "could do that" to anybody. "He (Michael) was a person...valued and loved" she said. "So I know justice will come. Whether it's on this side of heaven or not."
Villa's testimony concluded with the defense asking him about "voices" he hears in his head. Villa said he hears no voices.
The preliminary hearing is scheduled to resume Thursday morning.
The deputies, who pleaded not guilty to murder and assault charges that could come with lifelong prison sentences, have been out on bail since September and are currently on paid leave from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department.