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Families of people who died in custody call for group meeting with San Diego County sheriff

Justice reform activists and family members of people who died in custody held a news conference in front of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department Wednesday to express their frustration over not being able to meet with Sheriff Kelly Martinez as a group.

"We see it as an ugly start to the first month of the first year of her office and she needs to do better," said Yusef Miller of the North County Justice and Equity Justice Coalition.

Miller, who has been advocating for the families for years, said Martinez did offer to meet with individual families, but they did not want that. "This feels like a divide and conquer tactic," he said. "These families rely on one another to support them through the grief."

Paul Silva
Courtesy of Leslie Allen
An undated photograph of Paul Silva, who died at the Men's Central Jail in downtown San Diego in 2018.

So he said the families instead came to hold that meeting in public, asking for the reforms they want to see, so other families don’t have to suffer their pain.
One by one they shared their stories of how their loved ones died in custody.

Among them was Leslie Allen, whose 30-year-old son, Paul Silva, died in the downtown Men’s Central Jail in 2018. Silva had schizophrenia, and Allen said she called 9-1-1 because he was having an episode. "I called for help to have the (Psychiatric Emergency Response) Team come out and take him to the hospital because he went off his meds and he was acting wacky and they never sent the PERT team and they arrested him," she said.

Allen said her son was in custody for two days, but when she would call they could not find where he was. She said she thought they had transferred him and kept calling to no avail.

Then her family got a call saying Silva was in the hospital in a coma on life support.

"Nobody wants to bury their child, this should be the other way around," she said through tears.


Allen believes Martinez can do something to effect change, saying, "Focus on these deaths, because it's got to stop."

Allen received a $3.5 million settlement from the county over her son’s death.

Just before Wednesday’s gathering, the sheriff’s department sent out a news release saying it was making positive strides in caring for inmates.

And in a separate statement to KPBS, Sheriff Kelly Martinez said she has always been willing to speak with the families, but out of respect for their losses she would like to meet with them individually.

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