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Two Councilmembers Call For Independent Investigation Into Death Of Aleah Jenkins

Aleah Jenkins rides a swing with her son in this undated photo.
Keiala Jenkins
Aleah Jenkins rides a swing with her son in this undated photo.
Two Councilmembers Call For Independent Investigation Into Death Of Aleah Jenkins
GUEST: Matt Hoffman, reporter, KPBS News Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

Kaye PBS is supported by the law firm of Mintz working with startups and growing companies many legal services can help clients raise capital secure space and protect intellectual property to achieve strategic goals. Moore admits Mintz built on excellent. Driven by change. Our top story on mid-day edition to San Diego City Council members want an independent investigation into the death of a woman following her arrest in La Hoya last year. District Attorney Sommer Stefan on Friday announced results of her investigation. The officer involved Stefan declared was not criminally liable for the death of Leah Jenkins. But now city council president Georgette Gomez and council member Monica Montgomery want the case re-examined. They cite body camera video that shows Ms Jenkins asking multiple times for help. I'm going to play a portion of that from a report by KP B.S. Matt Hoffman and a warning what you're about to hear might be disturbing. Stay right there. After vomiting and telling me she was pregnant. Paramedics were called off. But then on the ride to police headquarters Jenkins condition seemed to change. As the drive continues. The officer asks Jenkins about her outbursts. Jenkins. Still on water was gone. Miss Jenkins. Thank you make sure you're okay. Council president Georgette Gomez says she's deeply troubled about the treatment of Jenkins while in police custody. Gomez says the officer's body camera video clearly shows a decline in Jenkins well-being. Suffocating. What's going on. What's going on. What. What's going on. We're. Almost there and I can get you some water. Okay I'll get you. What's going on. What are you screaming about. Oh my. Councilwoman Monica Montgomery says it was heart wrenching hearing Jenkins ask for help with no assistance. Stay away. At one point the officer pulled over to check on her. Watch your head. Knock it off. And joining me is KP B.S. reporter Matt Hoffman who has covered Elliot Jenkins arrest and death. Matt start with the victim who was she and what were the circumstances surrounding her arrest. Yeah so Ellie Jenkins she's 24 years old she's from alcohol and she was pulled over in a vehicle in La Hoya. There were two other people inside that car as well. And she was eventually arrested on an outstanding warrant which led to this whole interaction leading to jail. All right. And what did the autopsy find as the cause of Ms Jenkins death. Well the medical examiner found extremely high amounts of meth in her system. Now passengers told officers that they gave her some drugs. They didn't know what she did with them if she hit them if she ingested them. But you do hear officers asking her if she ingested a thing and Jenkins repeatedly says no. And District Attorney Somer Stefan released the body camera footage on Friday what else did it show. Yeah you know the body camera video it showed almost like an hour and a half almost almost our entire interaction but it's not everything Stefan said. You know you can hear the officer. He's he's getting moans but he's also getting responses. He's not getting responses every single time. Council President George Gomez says the video clearly shows a decline in Jenkins condition. She appears to be going in and out of consciousness you can hear in some of the audio we played. There's some hyperventilating at times especially when they take her back to police headquarters she starts really hyperventilating and kind of drifting in and out of consciousness and that body cam video that's what the council members are zeroing in on right. Right yeah. Monica Montgomery said you know yesterday it was very heart wrenching to hear you know Jenkins screaming on that video asking for water. The drive there was a lot of traffic. There was a couple accents they said so it took over an hour to get her to there. So yeah it just basically you know they they wish assistance was was rendered sooner they say that the treatment in the video further supports the need to reform policing policies. Why did summer stuff and say no criminal liability was warranted in this case and what was Officer Durbin's response according to the D.A. statement right. So you know summer Stefan says it requires extreme circumstances that it requires more than ordinary carelessness inattention or mistake of judgment. And so they determine that there was no criminal liability. And Officer Durbin that's the San Diego police officer who was taking her to headquarters. He told the D.A. that he thought. JENKINS The noises she was making were out of frustration or fake complaint a pain. He also said that he believe that she did not want to go to jail and these were just attempts for her to try to kind of get out of that. And we know that Officer Lawrence Durbin was a six year veteran of the San Diego Police Department. Council president Gomez added that she too was deeply troubled by the incident. What specifically are they calling for the council members. Right. So they want an independent investigation they want a fresh set of eyes to look at this. They're asking that the state attorney general office look at this. Right now we really don't know if they are going to we reached out to them they said that we don't comment on potential or ongoing cases if they are happening. We should note that District Attorney summer stuff and so she's fine with an independent investigation. The rest of the details of this case and when she got to headquarters what happened then when they first got to headquarters she's hyperventilating in the back seat and the officer told her hey that's just going to make it worse. You know still seems like he didn't believe her really about what are the symptoms he was showing. So he went to go get her to water when he came back. That's when she was you know unconscious and then they started performing CPR. They called medics and then she was taken to the hospital and then days later she died about 10 days later. Council members Montgomery and Gomez have also called for the police department to revise its policies on medical care for people in custody what generally is that policy right. So part of that policy says you know it's all kind of vague but it says you know paramedics are generally not needed when an individual is suffering from minor illnesses or injuries but then that kind of leaves it up to the officer to determine what are those minor injuries what are those minor illnesses. And that goes to the criticism of those policies right. That it's just too vague right. Yeah and there's one point in the video you can hear the officer there's a scream when he take turns on his flashlight he turns around he says I just wanted to make sure you were OK. I mean we obviously didn't see what he did because the body camera was facing towards the road so maybe shot showing the light in her face or something like that. And like we said you know summer Stefan said that there were moans but he was getting responses but he wasn't getting responses all the time. It seems like it's sort of up to the officer to kind of use his own discretion whether or not it's a minor illness. I mean she did throw up earlier but she wasn't throwing up later in the car although at one point she was laying down and he went to check on her. He did pull over at one point and go to check on her she was laying down and he said it's fine if you lay down I can roll down the windows but it really seems like it's up to the officer's discretion whether or not a minor illness. All right. And we'll see you in the coming days how the state attorney general's office respond to this request and what the city council does and how they take up this. I've been speaking with Kate PBS reporter Matt Hoffman. Thanks Matt. Thanks Mark. This April the device podcast is kicking off our first season taking a closer look at Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and the mysterious polymer ICE 9. What would happen if all the oceans froze Vonnegut makes some predictions which we discuss with Alex Tati of the National Weather Service and some of the bright upcoming minds of the scripts Institute of Oceanography. The device podcast your monthly book club with a science based twist coming this April.

Two San Diego City Council members are calling for the state attorney general to look into the treatment of a 24-year-old woman who became unresponsive while in police custody. Aleah Jenkins later died at the hospital.

District Attorney Summer Stephan said the arresting officer cannot be held liable for Jenkins’ death. Body camera video shows Jenkins asking multiple times for help.

Jenkins was pulled over last November and was arrested on an outstanding warrant. While in police custody she threw up and paramedics were called — but Jenkins told police she was just sick and pregnant so paramedics were called off.


During the drive to police headquarters, Jenkins made multiple outbursts that can be heard on the officer's body-worn camera. She is heard telling the officer she is sick and needs help. At one point the officer pulled over to check on her.

"It was very heart-wrenching to hear Ms. Jenkins asking for help and water for over an hour after vomiting and no assistance was rendered," said Councilmember Monica Montgomery. "The treatment displayed in the video further supports the need to reform our policing policies."

Council President Georgette Gomez had a similar reaction to seeing the officer's body camera video.

"I am deeply troubled about the treatment of Ms. Jenkins while in custody," said Gomez. "The video clearly indicates a decline in her wellbeing. We must all strive to do better to respect the basic human rights of everyone in custody."

According to the district attorney’s office, the officer driving Jenkins thought the noises she made were out of frustration or a fake complaint of pain. The officer also believed Jenkins did not want to go to jail and the whining noises could be stomach pains from recently vomiting.


RELATED: Council Member Promises Answers After Woman Dies In Police Custody

Once at police headquarters Jenkins became unresponsive. Officers tried to revive her and paramedics were called. A medical examiner's report said Jenkins had lethal amounts of methamphetamine in her system which ultimately caused her death.

District Attorney Stephan said criminal negligence requires extreme circumstances.

"It requires more than ordinary carelessness, inattention or mistake of judgment," she said. "We have determined there is no evidence that the officer acted or failed to act that rises to the level to make him criminally liable."

Councilmembers Gomez and Montgomery also want San Diego Police to review its paramedic and emergency treatment policy.

"In order to ensure we utilize best practices, the San Diego Police Department constantly reviews its policies, procedures and training with both our regional and national law enforcement partners," said an SDPD spokesman. "We will be reviewing our procedures related to this incident."

The California Attorney General's office said, "To protect the integrity of an investigation, we can’t comment on, even to confirm or deny, a potential or ongoing investigation."

DA Summer Stephan Says Arresting Officer Cannot Be Held Liable For Death Of Aleah Jenkins
Two Councilmembers Call For Independent Investigation Into Death Of Aleah Jenkins
Two San Diego City Council members are calling for the state attorney general to look into the treatment of a 24-year-old woman who became unresponsive while in police custody. Aleah Jenkins later died at the hospital. You can hear this story and other local news every morning by subscribing to San Diego Stories, KPBS’ daily news podcast. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

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.