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Justice groups demand DA investigate and prosecute in-custody deaths, or resign

After yet another critical report about deaths in San Diego County jails, community advocates are again demanding the district attorney do something or step down. KPBS reporter John Carroll heard from family members today demanding justice for their loved ones who died behind bars.

After yet another critical report about deaths in San Diego County jails, community advocates are again demanding the district attorney do something — or step down.

They gathered Wednesday on the steps of the building named for justice itself and their demands were clear.

“It’s obvious that the District Attorney is asleep on the job, there’s no oversight," said Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego member Darwin Fishman.

Fishman sounded a now-familiar call; for DA Summer Stephan to either prosecute those responsible for in-custody deaths in county jails or resign.

“They’re homicides and it’s improper treatment and care that people are getting in jail," Fishman said.

One by one family members told their stories with a mixture of anger and sadness about what happened to their loved ones while in custody.

"On Valentine’s Day, my dad was found deceased on [the] Vista jail floor, naked, alone, cold and in his feces... I want somebody to answer. I want somebody to say, 'we were neglectful.' But none of that will bring back my dad, who’s never even had a traffic ticket," said Jennifer Schmidt.

“Once he was booked into jail, their negligence led to my husband’s death. He was only 33 years old. He was not just my husband, but my very best friend and I miss him every day," said Tammy Wilson, whose husband Omar Arroyo died while in custody.

We asked DA Stephan for her reaction. She provided a statement that said “Our reviews of in-custody deaths follow the law, are independent, objective and thorough. When the evidence and facts support criminal charges, we have and will file them.”

These groups are also calling for reforms in how the jails are run. Their demands are embodied in a piece of legislation called the Saving Lives In Custody Act, making its way through the legislature right now.

This coming Monday, the local branch of the ACLU is set to file an injunction, asking a judge to put those provisions into effect immediately to, as these families would say, stop the deaths from behind bars.