Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Another inmate dies in custody at a San Diego County jail

An autopsy was being performed Thursday on an inmate who died while in custody at the largest jail run by the Sheriff’s Department, the George Bailey Detention Center in Otay Mesa.

The man was one of two inmates found in a cell by deputies just before 8 Wednesday morning. They were both unresponsive.

Sheriff's homicide detective Lt. Chris Steffen explained what happened after the two men were discovered by deputies.


“One of the incarcerated persons was revived by some naloxone. ... And life-saving measures continued to be administered to the other incarcerated person, which was Omar Ornelas," Steffen said.

Ornelas was first booked into the Vista facility in November of 2018, charged with a probation violation. Later that year, Oceanside police charged him with a number of crimes, including murder. He was transferred to George Bailey late last year.

Steffen said jail medical staff at Bailey and paramedics did all they could to save the 28-year-old, but were unsuccessful.

“The first thing to my mind is: Oh no, we are in a deep crisis," Yusef Miller, of the North County Equity & Justice Coalition, said on Thursday afternoon.

Just the day before, KPBS covered a news conference led by Miller on the steps of the Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego. The subject: in-custody deaths in jails run by the Sheriff’s Department.


A recent state audit found that San Diego County's jail deaths ranked among the highest in California. And a new report commissioned by the Citizens' Law Enforcement Review Board, which investigates citizen complaints against the Sheriff's Department, found that deaths in county jails happen primarily among people who have yet to be sentenced.

RELATED: New report reveals details about who is dying in San Diego County jails

On Thursday, Miller said a number of reforms would need to happen immediately.

“We want better protocols for drugs, rehab and drug interaction," he said. "We want better mental health staff, better medical staff."

Miller said the Sheriff's Department wasn't doing its job in preventing drugs from getting into the detention facilities.

“They have a responsibility to keep drugs out of jail, to make sure that they monitor the packages that are coming in, people that are coming in. ... So how did they get the drugs?" he said. "It’s a failure in the system.”

But Steffen rejected criticism of jail staff.

“We try and figure out how narcotics are getting into the jails and do our best effort to keep that from happening, but the deputies are doing as good a job as they can," he said.

Thursday's autopsy will be an important part of the investigation into how yet another person died while in custody at a jail run by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.