After Death of Inmate, Santa Clara County Correctional Deputies Charged With Murder, Assault

Court records indicate the officers were trying to get Michael Tyree to take his medication

Three Santa Clara County correctional deputies on Tuesday were charged with murdering an inmate in their custody who was found beaten and naked in his Northern California jail cell last month.

Jereh Catbagan Lubrin, 28, Matthew Thomas Farris and Rafael Rodriguez, both 27, have been in custody without bail since their arrest on Sept. 3 following the Aug. 27 in-custody death of Michael Tyree, a schizophrenic homeless man who had finished his 5-day petty theft sentence and was waiting to be transferred to a treatment center for mental illness.

In addition, the three men were charged with the assault of a second inmate, Juan Villa. Charging documents released Tuesday revealed for the first time the alleged assault on Villa and gave a sharper timeline of events that occurred in the main jail.

None of the three correctional officers entered a plea to any of the charges in court Tuesday. Farris’s attorney, Bill Rapoport, told NBC Bay Area his client had nothing to do with Tyree’s death and shouldn’t be held without bail because he is not a flight risk.

All three deputies are due back in court on Sept. 18. If convicted of the charges, the guards could face life in prison.

“These men violated the law, human dignity, and the job that they were sworn to do,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said. “They may have thought that their violence, enacted late at night in the obscurity of a jail cell and against a helpless and mentally ill inmate, was invisible. Today we see it for all of its brutality. Mr. Tyree was not invisible. His death was not invisible. We will see that there is justice.&rdquo

Michael James Tyree pictured in 2012 at Maricopa County Jail on unknown charge.

In a jailhouse interview over the weekend, Rodriguez told the Mercury News that he never touched Tyree's body.

"It sucks being in here for something I didn't do,'' Rodriguez said while seated behind protective glass in the Dublin jail's visiting area.

Rodriguez acknowledged to the newspaper that he had been inside Tyree's pod to search it but maintained that no one forced Tyree to take his pills or laid a hand on him, as alleged. He said the Santa Clara County sheriff's investigation is relying on hearsay from inmates and making things up.

“The disappointment and disgust that I feel cannot be overstated,” Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said at a news conference.

At a news conference last week, Sheriff Laurie Smith said she felt "disappointment and disgust" about what happened to a man Tyree's lawyer said had struggled with mental illness most of his adult life.

The charging documents contain a brief summary of what happened leading up to Tyree's death, as told by investigating Sheriff's Sgt. Marc Carrasco.  New details and a better timeline of those events are documented in the report, and the narrative begins with Tyree not wanting to take his medication.

Some of the highlights of the report include:

About 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26, Tyree went to get his evening pills, and instead of taking his medication, stuck the meds in his pocket and walked away.

A nurse told Lubrin what Tyree had done and the deputy "confronted" him, telling the inmate to go back to the window for his pills.

When Tyree went back to the nurse, he called her a liar and a rapist, Carrasco wrote in a report, before eventually taking his medication.

Shortly after 9 p.m., the inmates of Pod 6B, which is a special area for those with mental health problems, were allowed to leave their cells for "program time." Tyree, like the others, went to exchange old clothing for new clothing. "Nothing remarkable" occurred during that time while Lubrin was present, Carrasco wrote.

By 10:10 p.m., all the inmates were back in their cells and locked in.

At 10:38 p.m. Lubrin and Farris entered Tyree's cell to conduct a search and to take any extra clothing that inmates may have hidden. At 10:48 p.m., Rodriguez joined them.

When all three arrived at cell 48, they confronted another inmate, identified as Juan Villa, about a fight he had with someone else during program time. The officer hit Villa in the head and twisted his arms, Carrasco wrote. They then left that cell, and eventually got to Tyree's cell, number 39.

"Do I have to get up," Tyree was heard saying.

Farris ordered him to get up.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Stop," Tyree's "distinctive" voice could be heard, Carrasco wrote.

Screaming could be heard through the pod for several minutes, court records show, and was accompanied by "sounds of thumping, wall banging and what sounded like blows to a person's body."

At some point, Carrasco wrote that Rodriguez closed the door so that it was open a crack.

The officers "inflicted injuries on Inmate Tyree above his eye, near his chin and on his cheek," the report states, adding there were more injuries, the most significant one on his lower back, which caused internal bleeding.

The officers left and continued their cell searches, the report states. They did not call for medical assistance.

At 11:09 p.m. the three officers left the pod.

At 12:07 a.m. on Aug. 27, Lubrin returned to the pod to do welfare checks.

At 12:12 a.m., Lubrin radioed there was a "man down."

At 12:35 a.m., Tyree was pronounced dead.

NBC Bay Area's Marianne Favro contributed to this report.

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