San Jose

Preliminary Autopsy Finds No Definitive Cause of Death of Santa Clara County Jail Inmate Who Died in Custody

An inmate who died Monday while in custody at the Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose was identified Wednesday as Walter Roches, county officials said.

The Santa Clara County medical examiner's office conducted an independent investigation and "the preliminary autopsy findings did not disclose a definitive cause of death," county executive Jeff Smith said in a statement.

Roches, 33, was being held at the jail's north tower, where he was found in medical distress during a routine check around 10:30 a.m. and pronounced dead roughly 30 minutes later, sheriff's officials said.

"The autopsy of Mr. Roches did not disclose evidence of foul play or acute injury that would otherwise explain his tragic death," Smith said.

A week before his death, custody health staff recommended Roches be moved to an observation cell after deputies observed him hitting his cell door with his fist, Undersheriff John Hirokawa said.

Custody staff tried to talk him out of his cell to no avail and resorted to other methods that involved force, Hirokawa said.

Following department protocol, staff used pepper spray, clear-out spray and air-powered plastic projectiles that all had no effect on Roches, according to Hirokawa.

Each spray and projectile was released minutes apart during which time staff tried to talk to the inmate, who continued to disobey their orders, Hirokawa said.

A few deputies then entered the cell where they pulled Roches out, placed him in handcuffs and had him take a shower to decontaminate him from the sprays, Hirokawa said.

Roches was taken to a hospital that night and returned to the jail early the next morning, Hirokawa said.

On Sept. 5, deputies arrested Roches in unincorporated San Jose on suspicion of three counts of assault, one of which involved an employee at a hospital, Hirokawa said.

He was released from jail on Sept. 19 for time served but was arrested the next day on suspicion of two counts of assault and being drunk in public, Hirokawa said.

The inmate's death comes a month after the alleged beating death of Michael James Tyree, 31, who was found dead on Aug. 27 at the Main Jail where he was allegedly beaten by jail guards.

Jereh Lubrin, 28, Rafael Rodriguez, 27, and Matthew Farris, 27, have been charged with murder and have all bailed out of jail on $1.5 million bail each. They are scheduled for a plea hearing on Oct. 13.

Roches' passing marks the county's sixth in-custody death this year, sheriff's officials said.

An investigation into the death is being conducted by the sheriff's office, District Attorney's Office and medical examiner's office.

"I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to Mr. Roches' family and friends during this very difficult and sad time," Smith said.

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