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Community demands transparency after another jail death

An inmate died of an unknown medical emergency in Vista county jail today. Combined with the news that a sheriff’s deputy was arrested Friday for allegedly bringing illegal drugs onto jail property, has community members calling for more transparency from the sheriff’s department. KPBS’s Alexander Nguyen has the details.

An inmate who was stricken by an unidentified medical emergency last week while in county jail in Vista died Monday, authorities reported.

According to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, Ryan Thuresson, 33, was pronounced dead in a hospital shortly before 7 a.m.

Thuresson, a convicted felon, had been in custody since Oct. 4, when he was booked on drug and firearms charges, Lt. Chris Steffen said.


Thuresson was found alone and unconscious in his cell on Wednesday morning, Steffen said. Jail staffers performed emergency first aid prior to the arrival of paramedics, who took him to a trauma center.

The cause of Thuresson's death is under investigation, the lieutenant said.

“All these deaths are speaking out loud,” said Gina Burns, founder of Moms Against Torture. "We need transparency, which it's not. People are dying left and right."

Burns' son is currently an inmate at George Bailey Detention Facility, and she said he’s suffering from medical neglect. She said there is a pattern of neglect in the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

“It's been going on for decades, and they have to be accountable," she said. "And I'm here to be a voice for the voiceless — the people that have died and are going to die. Enough is enough.”


The latest in-custody death comes on the heels of news that a sheriff’s deputy was arrested Friday for allegedly having illegal drugs on county jail property.

Deputy Allen Paul Wereski, 48, was taken into custody Friday after a substance believed to be cocaine was found in his vehicle, according to a statement from the department.

He has been suspended without pay. Wereski was booked into San Diego Central Jail and was being held on $25,000 bail pending arraignment, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Yusef Miller, executive director of North County Equity and Justice Coalition, said Wereski's arrest is proof that drugs are running rampant in the jails.

“It's not a statement to say that all deputies are drug dealers, but in case there is an influx through that staff and deputy route, that we cut it off," he said. "And we see now that it's very, very possible.”

Miller wants all county jail staff to be scanned for drugs when they show up for work. He said it's not enough that inmates and visitors are searched, the county workers should be held accountable too.

"It's enough to say that we want to safeguard the community from drugs coming in, no matter what direction," he said. "And we can try to raise the deputies above reproach, but that is not a fact."

In an interview with KPBS in January, newly elected Sheriff Kelly Martinez told KPBS there was no evidence that jail staff are bringing in drugs.

“That's not how drugs are getting into the jails. The body scanning that people suggest, as I said before, it's not a perfect system," she said at the time. "It's not going to catch all the drugs that are coming in. But, we can't body scan our employees several times a day. It's just not healthy. It's not safe.”

Miller said the department has been resistant to applying the changes recommended by the Citizens' Law Enforcement Review Board, including the recommendation that county jail workers be scanned for drugs.

“She says we have no data. Now we have data," he said. "How much data do we need to say this common-sense action to just scan everyone?”

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