Santa Clara County Leaders Call for Jail Reforms Following Inmate Death

Plan would form a "blue ribbon" public commission to investigate policies and procedures

Santa Clara County leaders are calling for immediate reforms following the death of an inmate inside his San Jose jail cell.

They announced a plan on Thursday to assess and speed up improvements at county jails in light of the in-custody death allegedly at the hands of three correctional deputies two weeks ago.

Michael James Tyree, 31, was a mentally ill inmate being held on drug and theft charges at the county's Main Jail in San Jose, where he was pronounced dead on Aug. 27 after he was allegedly assaulted by correctional deputies Jereh Lubrin, 28, Rafael Rodriguez, 27, and Matthew Farris, 27, prosecutors said.

On Tuesday, the deputies were each arraigned on a murder charge for Tyree's death along with an assault under the color of authority charge for an alleged attack on another inmate identified as Juan Villa, prosecutors said.

Supervisors Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez provided details of the plan to review the custodial processes, procedures and protocols at county jail facilities. The plan will be presented at the board's meeting next Tuesday.

The supervisors joined Sheriff Laurie Smith and Undersheriff John Hirokawa during a news conference at the county's Department of Corrections in San Jose Thursday morning.

Under the plan, a "blue ribbon" public commission to look at all aspects of custody operations would be comprised of people with a variety of backgrounds including mental health experts, clergy, inmate advocates and two county supervisors, Cortese said.

“This public commission would be investigatory in nature and tasked with a top to bottom review of our custody operations,” Cortese said.

Once assembled, the commission's review of the jail facilities and operations would take about 90 to 120 days, Smith said.

The plan also calls for expediting the expansion and modernization of the facilities' surveillance cameras because some parts of the jails lack security cameras or audio equipment, Chavez said.
An anonymous hotline would also be created to help report abuse or recommendations in the jails as means to improve communication in a safe manner, Chavez said.

Hirokawa, Cortese and Smith signed off on a letter Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Corrections asking for a review of the correctional facilities and to make any recommendations.

Hirokawa, who heads the county's correctional facilities, said the inmate population has increased in recent years in part because of the passage of the state's realignment program in 2011.

The current jail population is at more than 3,600 inmates and 48 percent have been diagnosed with mental health issues by custody staff, an increase from 10 to 15 percent about 15 years ago, Hirokawa said.

About 40 to 50 percent of the roughly 700 correctional deputies in the sheriff's office are trained to deal with mental health inmates, Hirokawa said.

There is now interest to expand training for all correctional deputies, Hirokawa said.

A high school diploma is required to become a correctional deputy and there may be consideration into raising the education requirement, Smith said.

Smith said she is "setting a clear standard" for the sheriff's office on how it handles complaints from inmates, staff and general public. She had a stern warning Thursday for any staff member who crosses the line.

“If you break the rules and break the law, and you wear our uniform, we will investigate this to the fullest and hold those accountable for their actions,” Smith said.

The sheriff's office will add 40 hours of crisis intervention training to the curriculum at correctional training academies, Smith said.

An academy currently underway will start the 40-hour CIT training next week, Hirokawa said.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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