As Justin Harris strolled through a shopping plaza parking lot in Orange last summer, a policeman stopped him. Harris admitted to Sergeant Rafael Ward that he was on probation and gave permission to be patted down. That’s when Ward noticed Harris was sweating profusely, had dilated pupils and was talking rapidly. Ward called for backup. Orange police officers Evan Smith and Jordan Uemura arrived and hauled Harris back to the station for being under the influence of a controlled substance shortly before midnight on July 14, 2016.
Harris never made it to a jail cell alive.
According to a report released by the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) office, Harris still displayed symptoms of being on a stimulant when taken to the station. Around 2 a.m., Smith and Uemura drove him to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Men’s Central Jail where his condition quickly deteriorated. When Harris sat down on a bench, he started fidgeting around and mumbling even more. He got up and started walking away when six deputies had to help Orange police subdue him.
Authorities rolled Harris into jail in a wheelchair and put a spit mask on him. He continued resisting, using his feet as brakes, dragging the wheelchair all along the way. Medical personnel refused to book Harris under his condition, deciding instead to transfer him to a local hospital for clearance. Smith and Uemura put Harris in the back of their patrol car again and headed to St. Joseph’s in Orange. He ended up face down on the floor of the back seat. Audio recordings noted that Harris spoke gibberish through labored breathes at the time.
Smith asked Harris how he was doing back there, but got no response. The police stopped their car to check on him. Harris appeared to be sleeping and snoring. But when arriving at St. Joseph’s around 2:42 a.m., they found him unresponsive, without a pulse in the back seat. Emergency Room staff restarted Harris’ heart, but had no such luck with brain activity. They stopped all life-saving intervention and pronounced him deceased around 4 p.m. that day.
The OCDA report concluded that the officers frequently checked in on Harris’ well-being throughout the incident and took him to the hospital before his health condition turned critical. “There are no facts to support any inference that the OPD intentionally breached their duty of care to Harris,” the OCDA report reads. “There is also no evidence to support criminal negligence on the part of anybody connected with the OPD.” With that, the OCDA stated Harris died of an accidental drug overdose and closed its investigation.
As always, read the report in its entirety online.