San Jose

Santa Clara County Sheriff Announces Staffing Changes at Jails

The new measures follow death of a mentally ill inmate in August.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff announced Wednesday some major changes to its jail operation focusing on use-of-force complaints.

The new measures are part of an ongoing evaluation that began after a mentally ill inmate, Michael Tyree, was allegedly beaten to death by three correctional deputies in August.

The sheriff's changes at the Main Jail are aimed primarily around one particular work shift schedule, the "D" shift, which has accounted for 43 percent of use-of-force complaints and 38 percent of self-reported use of force complaints made by custody staff, Sheriff Laurie Smith said during a news conference Wednesday at sheriff's headquarters.

"There is a troubling cluster of complaints emanating from a particular shift at the Main Jail," Smith said.

Custody staff members that work the shift are scheduled from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and every other Saturday, all days that can be the busiest time of the week at the jail, Assistant Sheriff Troy Beliveau said. Supervisors, management and staff on the "D" shift tend to have the least seniority, Smith said.

"I don't think experience equates to unnecessary or inappropriate use of force," she said, adding that more "seasoned people" need to be working with less experienced staff.

Among many changes, officers on the "D" shift will be watched more closely. Sheriff Smith said she will add a lieutenant and sergeant to the shift.

"When a deputy is intent on breaking the law, they won't do it in front of any kind of supervision or management," Smith said.

The sheriff also said nine veteran officers about to transfer to the minimum security facility Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas will be kept at the Main Jail to make sure there are more experienced officers on hand.

The supervisors and officers will also be recording - more extensively - incidents throughout the shift, especially any high-level use of force.

"At that time, they're going to do a larger report that really details everything that was done and what led to the event," Beliveau said.

The sheriff also plans to cluster mentally ill inmates to make it easier to provide services. Paula Canny, the attorney for Michael Tyree's family, said they should be in a "ward."

"Treat these people who are mentally ill as ill people not as 'traditional prisoners,'" Canny said.

The sheriff said she will be presenting these changes on Saturday to the new Blue Ribbon Commission that is evaluating the jail operation.

Tyree died in August, after the corner determined he had been beaten to death. Correctional deputies Jereh Lubrin, 28, Matthew Farris, 27, and Rodriguez, 27, have been charged with Tyree's murder and also with the beating of inmate Juan Villa on the sixth floor of the main jail. Last month, a former gang member said two Santa Clara County correctional deputies beat him while in jail. In all, eight deputies were placed on leave after Tyree was found dead in his cell.

Following Tyree's death, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors called for the formation of the 25-member Blue Ribbon Commission to be headed by retired judge and San Jose independent police auditor, LaDoris Cordell.

Cordell said the commission was formed to make recommendations to make sure what happened to Tyree doesn't happen to anyone else.

Smith said that her office will tell the commission what the new action plans are and "we welcome their input." But she said she wanted to "take these actions right now."

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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