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Justice advocates disagree with San Diego Sheriff's count of in-custody deaths this year

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said there have been 17 in-custody deaths to date this year, one short of tying last year's record of 18.

Racial justice advocates don't agree with that count and rallied outside the steps of District Attorney Summer Stephan’s office at San Diego’s Hall of Justice on Thursday.

"Another month, more in-custody deaths. And even now, disputes over how many people have died in jail. 17, 18, 19 — we have a record this year, any number you want," said Darwin Fishman with the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego.

The sheriff's department's count does not include a man who died after being granted compassionate release to a local hospital.

Fishman said as the number of in-custody deaths goes up, the sheriff’s department is looking for excuses.

"We're worried that as the in-custody death rates go up and it looks more embarrassing to the sheriff's department, they will find ways to cover up these deaths and try to explain them away," he said.

Fishman criticized the San Diego County Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) for not doing enough to hold law enforcement accountable for the deaths. CLERB looks at the deaths from an independent perspective to see if they could have been prevented.

"We had a history of not being timely and dropping the ball quite frankly, several years ago," said Paul Parker, the executive officer of CLERB.

He said he is pushing to be more proactive as in-custody deaths continue to rise.

"We can say all day long that the deputies did everything fine, but maybe there's something else that could have been done differently to prevent a death from that perspective," Parker said.

Parker said that right now, CLERB doesn’t have jurisdiction over the records of the medical services provided to a person in distress.

"We're really only getting half of the story right. We really can't look to see if the medical services providers did what they were supposed to do: act in a timely fashion, administer the correct medications, took the proper steps when identifying a medical situation," Parker said.

He is advocating for access to the medical service records as well as cracking down on drugs getting into jail facilities.

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