Speaking of dead Orange County Jail inmates . . .
The same day the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) announced the death of an immigration detainee inside Theo Lacy Jail in Orange, the Orange County district attorney's (OCDA) office announced it had wrapped up its probe into another death inside the county jail system. The 55-year-old inmate, Richard James Wilson, was found dead in his cell on June 28, 2010. He was one of nine inmates who have died in the past year inside county jails, a spate highlighted in this recent Weekly cover story.
In a Jan. 18 letter to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, Larry Yellin, a senior homicide prosecutor, stated there was no foul play in Wilson's death. "Based on all evidence provided to the OCDA, the entirety of the facts contained in the reports reviewed, and pursuant to the applicable legal principles, it is my legal opinion that the evidence does not support a finding of criminal culpability on the part of any OCSD deputy or [Santa Ana Fire Department] personnel, or other inmate," Yellin wrote. "It is our conclusion the manner of death was natural and the cause of death was hypertensive cardiovascular disease."
In reaching that conclusion, Yellin cites interviews with 11 witnesses, including deputies and inmates, as well as collection of other evidence, including sheriff's department reports, autopsy results, toxicology reports, incident-scene photographs and security videos. According to the investigation, Wilson, who was arrested by Anaheim police on June 27 for violating probation, was housed in a medical ward because he told jail staff the following day that he suffered from "hepatitis B and C, high blood pressure and seizures." Wilson also disclosed that "he had not taken the medication for his high blood pressure."
At 11:35 a.m., deputies escorted Wilson to his cell, which he shared with a wheelchair-bound amputee, identified in Yellin's letter as Inmate No. 1. "According to Inmate No. 1, Wilson appeared tired and mentioned that he had not taken his medication for two days. Both Wilson and Inmate No. 1 went to sleep. Sometime later, Inmate No. 1 was awoken by a 'thump' and thought Wilson had slipped. He turned and saw Wilson lying face-down on the floor, partially covered by his blanket. Inmate No. 1 called out to Wilson, received no response and went back to sleep, thinking Wilson was asleep."
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It wasn't until about 3 that afternoon, when dinner was handed out to inmates in the ward, that Inmate No. 1 "threw the sack lunch and milk in Wilson's direction." Another inmate nearby heard him ask, "Are you going to eat that?" and say, "Grab your lunch."
Finally, at 6:20 p.m., two deputies walking through the ward saw Wilson on the floor and "asked if Wilson was all right. Wilson did not respond." Neither did Inmate No. 1, who appeared to be asleep. The deputies then unlocked the cell and turned Wilson over, at which point they noticed blood around his mouth and nose. They activated an alarm and requested medical assistance. By now, of course, Wilson was cold to the touch. A Santa Ana Fire Department crew arrived at the jail five minutes later and quickly pronounced Wilson dead.
Although Wilson officially died of cardiovascular disease, a toxicology report showed he had methamphetamine, methadone, methadone metabolite, methorphan, nordiazepam, chlorodiazepoxide, oxazepam and demoxepam in his system.
Yellin's letter does not address the question of whether his death from hypertension could have been avoided if he had been given medication upon arriving at the jail and telling staffers he hadn't taken any for a few days. But as medical staff who spoke with the Weekly for a recent cover story on jail deaths noted, it's typical for inmates to go several days without their medication whenever their prescription expires, so it seems unlikely Wilson would have obtained his medication in time to prevent his death.