Three Santa Clara County Correctional Deputies Face Preliminary Hearing

Three Santa Clara County correctional deputies accused of beating a mentally ill inmate to death were in court Monday for the first of what is expected to be a three-day preliminary hearing.

Prosecutors made their cases against Rafael Rodriguez, Matthew Farris – both 27 – and Jereh Lubrin, 29, who sat quietly behind their respective attorneys in the Santa Clara County Superior Courthouse. The trio was arrested on charges of murdering 31-year-old Michael Tyree on Aug. 26. Tyree was in jail for a drug charge and was awaiting a transfer to a mental health facility when he died in custody.

Tyree’s sister Shannon Tyree was also in court Monday as Deputy District Attorney Matt Braker presented evidence to convince Judge Ron Del Pozzo that there is probable cause to send the three defendants to trial. 

Braker is pushing for the deputies to be tried for murdering Tyree as well as committing “assault under color of authority” on another mentally ill inmate, Juan Villa.

Monday was also the first time Tyree's family saw crime scene photos of his body, which was found on the floor outside his jail cell. 

Shannon Tyree began to cry when Braker showed a photo of Tyree covered with feces and vomit, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

"You saw a naked, dead inmate who had been clearly dragged from his cell,"  said Paula Canny, the Tyree family's attorney. "It's horrible for the family. It's so painful. It's heartbreaking."

Prosecutors also questioned Santa Clara County Sgt. Marc Carrasco, in charge of investigating Tyree’s death, about the layout of the sixth floor of the Santa Clara County Main Jail where Tyree died from blunt force trauma, according to the coroner’s office.

Questions were also raised about hourly welfare checks as well as areas in the jail that are covered by surveillance cameras and others that aren’t.

Carrasco testified that Lubrin and Farris arrived at the cell block around 10:38 p.m. Aug. 26 during a clothing exchange program, and Rodriguez entered 10 minutes later. The trio left 21 minutes later, he said, adding that no other deputies were there that night.  

Jail logs and surveillance footage back up the timeline provided by Carrasco.

"Michael Tyree was in a locked cell when the three deputies went into the cell block so nobody else but those three deputies could have entered his cell," Canny said.

Villa has also levied accusations against Rodriquez, Farris and Lubrin. He and other inmates are expected to testify during Tuesday's hearings about what they heard and saw on the day Tyree was killed.

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.

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