SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors directed county staff to come up with a plan to improve safety and communication at the county’s jails in response to an inmate death late last month.
Three correctional deputies allegedly killed Michael James Tyree, 31, in his sixth-floor cell at the Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose, prosecutors said.
Tyree, who suffered from mental illness, was pronounced dead on Aug. 27 while serving time for misdemeanor petty theft and drug possession, sheriff’s officials said.
One component of the plan approved today is assembling a “blue ribbon” commission to assess the county’s management of the jails on numerous fronts, including the accountability of correctional staff, supervision of mentally ill inmates and custodial staff training.
The commission would include two county supervisors, mental health experts, clergy members, retired judges and community members for inmate rights.
The commission would be a public and transparent group regulated through the Brown Act that would be investigative in nature in reviewing the jails, Supervisor Dave Cortese said.
The board is asking county staff to speed up the purchasing process to expand the surveillance camera system within the jails and establish an anonymous hotline for inmates, correctional staff and the public to report alleged abuse, mistreatment and poor conditions in the facilities.
Another component is to accelerate security clearance for inmate advocates and clergy, who expressed that they have not been allowed into the jails, to interact with those in custody to tone down the sense of fear within the facilities, Supervisor Cindy Chavez said.
Supervisor Ken Yeager called for county staff to also look at mental health issues in the jails, including the current number of available beds, resources for those in custody waiting to be sent to an outside facility and evaluation of behavioral health when inmates are processed and booked.
There should also be research into treatment options for inmates once they are released, Yeager said.
“As disturbing and as upsetting that this murder is, I think it just shows that we have to make sure that we don’t leave any stone unturned,” he said.
Supervisor Joe Simitian said he shares the “sense of urgency” in reviewing the jail management but had concerns that the timeline would not allow for a “top to bottom evaluation.”
“I think while it’s important we move quickly, it’s even more important we move effectively,” Simitian said.
Simitian asked for more clarity on the commission’s abilities, such as whether they have the right to subpoena documents or hire outside experts.
“Once we turn over the rocks we’re going to find some pretty ugly stuff,” Simitian said, adding a question of whether there will be enough commitment to face any other challenges that may arise from the review.
The three deputies, 28-year-old Jereh Lubrin, 27-year-old Rafael Rodriguez and 27-year-old Matthew Farris, have been charged with murder in Tyree’s death and assault under the color of authority for an alleged attack on a second inmate, identified as Juan Villa, according to prosecutors.
They were arraigned on the charges last week and are scheduled for a plea and bail hearing on Friday.