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State audit: San Diego County fails to curb inmate deaths

 February 4, 2022 at 3:45 PM PST

Speaker 1: (00:00)

And audit says the San Diego county Sheriff's department failed to prevent in custody deaths.

Speaker 2: (00:05)

San Diego jails have the highest mortality rate of any jail system in California.

Speaker 1: (00:10)

I'm Jade Henman. This is KPBS midday edition Hate crimes in San Diego are rising. We know that that's just

Speaker 3: (00:28)

The tip of the iceberg for how others feel around town

Speaker 1: (00:32)

And a number of performances and exhibitions to check out in the weekend. Preview that's ahead on midday edition. The San Diego county sheriff has failed to adequately prevent and respond to the deaths of individuals in its custody. That's according to an investigation by California's state auditor, the audit released on the day of outgoing sheriff bill Gore's retirement suggests that legislative action be taken in order to improve the quality of correctional care in San Diego county jails. Joining me now as freelance reporter Kelly Davis, whose investigations into deaths at county jails led to the auditor's investigation. Kelly, welcome back to the program.

Speaker 2: (01:33)

Hi, thanks for having me. So before

Speaker 1: (01:34)

We get into what the report says, remind us why state auditors investigated the Sheriff's department's oversight of San Diego county jails.

Speaker 2: (01:42)

The audit points out there have been 185 deaths in San Diego jails over the last 15 years. San Diego has not only the most deaths for a jail of its size, but in terms of mortality rate, San Diego jails have the highest mortality rate of any jail system in California, as auditor found, you know, a lot of these deaths were preventable. There were too many suicides, San Diego ranks pretty high in terms of suicides. And so there are a lot of deficiencies in medical and, and mental health care.

Speaker 1: (02:17)

The language used in the state auditors report is unequivocal. I mean, what did the state say about why so many P people are dying in county jails?

Speaker 2: (02:25)

Yeah, no, this is one of the more assertive audits I've seen from the state auditor and the audit actually really focused on solvable problems that the auditors recognize as trends. So for example, deputies have not been doing proper safety checks. They're supposed to check once an hour to ensure that an inmate is alive, breathing and healthy, but what they actually do is what inmates refer to as drivebys, where they'll walk past a cell and they'll, they'll barely glance in. And, uh, Jeff McDonald at the union Tribune, who's been my colleague in, in reporting on this. We've found this in so many cases where people will have been dead for hours in their cell because nobody has checked in on them. And perhaps a more thorough check earlier on in the day could have found that they were in distress or that they needed to be taken to the infirmary, but instead they were kind of just left there and found hours after, or they died, you know, and the audit also highlighted the need for better mental health screening during the booking process and better follow up on folks with chronic illnesses, such as heart conditions.

Speaker 2: (03:29)


Speaker 1: (03:29)

The audit outlines a, a number of failures, uh, within the jails, are they proposing any solutions

Speaker 2: (03:36)

Statewide standards? So the statewide rules that guide jails and to how to, to care for the people in their custody, they found those standards are really insufficient for maintaining the safety of folks in custody. And so while they are making recommendations specifically for San Diego, you know, have a mental health clinician during intake, do a better job on following up with folks with chronic illnesses. They're also saying that the board of state and community corrections, which is the entity that kind of oversees jails on the state level, they need to make stronger rules to ensure the welfare of inmate statewide and the audit actually thinks the best way for that to happen is through legislation. So new legislation to kind of boost protections in jails to prevent more deaths like what we're seeing in San Diego, you know, in

Speaker 1: (04:28)

Addition to lapses in inmate care, the report outlines the cost to taxpayers in court fees, legal settlements, and jury awards over the years. What can you tell us about that? So

Speaker 2: (04:39)

As the audit between 2006 and 2020, there were 22 lawsuits filed in San Diego related to deaths of incarcerated folks. And San Diego has settled 11 of those for a total of 9.2 million. So that's only through 2020 that figure that 9.2 million figure doesn't appear to include about 5 million in settlements that were made last year. So it's closer to 14, 15 million that taxpayers have paid in jail, death lawsuits. And then there was also a lawsuit involving a young man who was seriously injured in jail. And I think that resulted in a 6 million settlement. How

Speaker 1: (05:18)

Did the Sheriff's department respond to this report?

Speaker 2: (05:21)

They didn't love it. They kind of attacked the messenger. You know, they questioned the audits methods, which is something they've done with other outside reports while they did agree with some findings and said that any death is a tragedy and that they'll make changes to reduce in custody deaths. The state auditors called parts of the Sheriff's response, disingenuous, and really question whether the department would be able to make durable change. And so that's why we get kind of the justification. You know, that jails can only be fixed by legislation just because of this resistance to change that we've seen over the years.

Speaker 1: (05:57)

As you mentioned, the report proposes those legislative fixes, what do you expect to see happen? Next

Speaker 2: (06:02)

Legislators released a bunch of statements yesterday after the audit came out, Senator Tony Atkins and Dr. Aquila Weber who had requested the audit, they called the findings deeply disturbing, and they committed to work together to sure recommendations are implemented assembly member, Chris ward from San Diego. He also promised to work with folks in the legislature to find the best approach to implement the audits recommendations. You

Speaker 1: (06:28)

Know, you've told the stories of a number of people who died in custody in San Diego county jails. Um, we know activists have been pushing for this audit for years. Have you had a chance to speak to any family members or even community activists to hear their thoughts

Speaker 2: (06:44)

On this report? Yes. And they are so grateful for this. There's a group in particular, standing up for racial justice, the racial justice coalition who've really been pushing for an audit like this. They really wrap after the death of a young woman named Alisa Cerna, who actually a nurse has been charged with manslaughter in that case. And so that really lit a fire to get people interested in this and push for some outside entity to come in and take a good hard look at what's going on in jails. And so I think those community groups deserve a, a lot of credit for drawing renewed interest in this issue and working with, uh, Aquila Weber to get this audit done.

Speaker 1: (07:25)

I've been speaking with Kelly Davis, a San Diego investigative reporter who covers San Diego county jails. Kelly, thank you so much for joining us.

Speaker 2: (07:33)

Oh, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Speaker 1: (07:41)

Hate crimes increased sharply in San Diego and across the country in recent years and as KPBS, race and equity reporter, Christina cam reports, early findings show the trend grew even worse in 2021.

Speaker 4: (07:54)

Hate is on the rise in San Diego. And the examples are everywhere just last week and city of Coronado, director of recreation and golf services. Roger Miller and his wife, Sandra Miller were filmed after allegedly hurling. anti-Asian racist slurs towards an Asian American couple while shopping in orange county.

Speaker 5: (08:13)

Yeah, America's afraid back to China.

Speaker 4: (08:17)

Roger Miller is currently on administrative leave, pending an independent investigation by the city of Coronado. His wife was fired from her job at a school in Temecula.

Speaker 3: (08:26)

We know that that's just the tip of the iceberg for how others feel around town.

Speaker 4: (08:30)

Jason POEO is a Coronado resident and CEO and president of the Asian business association in San Diego. He was disturbed by Miller's behavior and the city's response. You know, this

Speaker 3: (08:40)

Doesn't come out of nowhere. It's not out of a vacuum that, you know, people must have, have heard his actions and what he had done in the past

Speaker 4: (08:48)

Pogi has lived in San Diego county, his whole life. He says the past few years have changed how he sees the region,

Speaker 3: (08:54)

Not the San Diego. I know. Um, and, and what I grew up in. So it's, uh, really dis disheartening

Speaker 4: (08:59)

In the city of San Diego. The number of hate crimes reported by the San Diego police department nearly doubled last year. District attorney summer Stephan says her office prosecuted 30 hate crime cases in 2021 and received around 300 reports of hate incidents.

Speaker 6: (09:14)

We definitely saw a rise in hate crimes, even as compared with 2020, which was already quite an increase, but we, we saw an even wider increase in 2021 and a race based hate crimes top the

Speaker 4: (09:32)

List, this uptick in hate and hate crimes, not just happening locally. Brian Levin director of the center for the study of hate and extremism at Cal state San Bernardino says hate crimes and major us cities went up 46% in 2021.

Speaker 7: (09:46)

So nationally for instance, New York, LA uh, Chicago hit century highs along with some other places, nation

Speaker 4: (09:55)

Wide race based hate crimes are still primarily directed against black Americans.

Speaker 7: (10:00)

So in most cities anti-black is going to be the highest and anti-black has been the highest nationally, as long as we've been collecting data. But

Speaker 4: (10:10)

Over the past few years, hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased the most, that number, a whopping 339% nationwide in 2021, Levin says major events and political rhetoric contribute to spikes in hate

Speaker 7: (10:26)

Stereotypes and bigotries that are directed against various groups. Particularly racial groups really get anchored in 2020 anti with respect to COVID anti-black with respect to, uh, the George Floyd lynching

Speaker 4: (10:44)

Here in San Diego, the DA's office found that 12% of all hate crimes reported to them in 2021 were against Asian Americans. Stephan says, this is likely an undercount, and they only capture a snapshot of the impact. Hate has on a

Speaker 6: (10:57)

Hate crimes, have a ripple effect. They don't just make someone feel unsafe and, and terrorized who is the direct victim. They make everyone in the, that shares the identity. The race of that individual also feel unsafe. That

Speaker 4: (11:15)

Feeling of not being safe is something that at PA has been hearing from local Asian business owners. And it's taking a toll on him too.

Speaker 3: (11:22)

It's very heavy hearing it. You know, as much as we have in the last couple years here

Speaker 4: (11:27)

Still PA appreciates that the issue is being tracked and hopes. It inspires people to action.

Speaker 3: (11:33)

We need allies across the board, in every community. We need people standing up for us and being in solidarity with our communities,

Speaker 4: (11:41)

Kim KPBS news

Speaker 1: (11:53)

In the arts this weekend, we have classical music on a boat, a tap dancing and piano collaboration, a new play, and plenty of visual art. Joining me with all the details is KPBS arts, producer and editor, Julia Dixon Evans. Julia. Welcome.

Speaker 8: (12:08)

Hi Jade. Thanks for having me

Speaker 1: (12:10)

Tonight at the LA Jolla music society, a world renowned taped dancer and piano duo will grace. This stage performing an impressive repertoire of compositions. Tell us about Conrad and Caleb Tyr. Well, Hey,

Speaker 8: (12:23)

This is tap dancer, Caleb Tyr, who is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. And then his frequent piano player, collaborator, Conrad TA they routinely do performances together. I've I've watched a few and sometimes it feels like the dance is informing the music more than the other way around. And they recently had a performance video collected in the library of Congress. It's a performance set to a solo piano arrangement of Schmid's rap in blue. And even just listening, you can hear how, how the floor and the tap dancing becomes part of the music team And their performing at the LA Jolla music. Society's baker bound concert hall. And they'll do a set that starts with Bach some original compositions, some jazz avant Gar music and the Gerwin as well.

Speaker 1: (13:26)

Conrad TA and Caleb Tyr will perform counterpoint tonight at 8:00 PM for a new art exhibition at city college's city gal, four artists were chosen because of how drawing has a role in their work though, the results aren't always drawing. Tell us about this one,

Speaker 8: (13:43)

Right? This is a group of four regional artists. There is Tatiana Ortiz, Rubio, who she works in large scale murals most of the time, but a lot of her works use charcoal. So there's definitely a, a sketch element there. Another artist is Dakota new who has these life size foam core cutouts. Some of them are, are wearable that he tapes to his body, but most of them in this exhibition are arranged as standing paper, doll type sculptures in a sort of play scape inside their room. The drawings on these are pretty fantastical and kind of grotesque too. There's Vicki Walsh, who does this sort of layered portraiture using oil paint, but in transparent layers to make this realistic skin effect. And her works are beyond realistic. It's like taking a close up to the extreme and, and exaggerating the flaws or even making a face larger than life. And finally, Catherine Moway, she is known for her large scale black and white botanical or tree drawings. So yeah, all of these works start with are somehow informed by drawing, but the exhibition has painting sculpture and mural as well.

Speaker 1: (14:55)

Selected drawings opens on Saturday and runs through March 1st in the theater, a new play opens at Cignet called life sucks. It's a retelling of a play by checkoff. Tell us about this one. Yeah.

Speaker 8: (15:07)

This is a play by playwright, Aaron poner and, uh, retelling of checkoffs uncle Vaya from 1898. Aaron poner kind of made a career out of adapting. Classic works into these absurd contemporary takes, including an adaptation of checkoffs, the Seagul. I can't say the full title on the radio, but it was stupid blank bird and Cigna that one too in 2016, but in life sucks, it's basically a really dysfunctional dinner party with a complicated gathering of ex friends, former lovers, current lovers, long lost in-laws and more. And plus there's a dash of murder mystery. Mm.

Speaker 1: (15:49)

Life sucks just open its Cignet feet and it will run through February 27th. The Haman quartet returns to the Berkeley ship at the maritime museum on Sunday for a concert. Tell us about this performance.

Speaker 8: (16:02)

Yeah, this is part of their heightened voyages series, where they're making their way through all of Heden string quartet compositions, and for these con, which are quarterly. They also pair those with other composers. So people who are writing quartets around the same time as Heden, but also contemporary composers. And for Sundays selections, they have picked French romantic composer, Jermaine, Thai fair, and a composition. She wrote in 1990 and then a new composition by contemporary multidisciplinary artist, Leila OU. She is an advent classical and electro pop performer and composer. And they're gonna play her piece if the stars align, which is stunningly gorgeous,

Speaker 1: (16:59)

The Homan cortets hide and voyages stars line takes place Sunday at 2:30 PM at the maritime museum fondly a new exhibition at the LA Jolla historical society, invited artists to come in and explore their archives. Then make new works of art with that. Uh, tell us about memory traces artists transform the archive.

Speaker 8: (17:20)

This one is all put together by curator Elizabeth wreckage, who also runs herein, which is a new local visual arts journal. And she invited seven artists to Rumage through the LA JOA historical society's archives. And they each made new works inspired by what they found and it's alled to be a study of memory and history, and also a way of making those things history. Collective. I have seen glimpses of a few of the pieces so far. They're incredible. Janelle alas has built a wood frame structure. It's adorned with tangled branches and Palm Frans. Joshua Marino has, has made a series of powerful sketches. Alice Weiss is working with this massive found banner about daily mat a show. There's gonna be a mixture of disciplines and also scopes there's sculptures. There's smaller wall pieces, and some people are working directly with the archival content and some of them are more conceptual

Speaker 1: (18:23)

Memory traces opens this weekend with gallery hours on Saturday and Sunday from noon to four it's on view through May 15th, you can find details on these and more arts events or sign up for Julia's weekly KPBS arts slash arts as always check with event organizers for last minute changes or important COVID protocols. I've been speaking with KPBS arts editor and producer, Jill Dixon Evans. Julia.

Speaker 8: (18:50)

Thanks. Thanks so much Jade.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has, “failed to adequately prevent and respond to the deaths of individuals in its custody,” according to an investigation by the California State Auditor. And Hate crimes increased sharply in San Diego and across the country in recent years. Early findings show the trend grew even worse in 2021. Plus, in our weekend preview, classical music on a boat, a tap dancing and piano collaboration, a new play based on an old story, and plenty of visual art.