Part two of our ‘60 Dead Inmates’ series shows how deputies killed a schizophrenic inmate and avoided a public investigation.SD City Beat — The diagram looks like two carnival wheels, but it represents the array of options facing San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies when they confront a hostile inmate. It’s part of the “use of force” guidelines issued to guards.
The first wheel is labeled “Suspect’s Actions,” with spokes representing behaviors ranging from “non-compliance” to “active resistance” and “assaultive behavior.” The second wheel is “Deputy’s Response,” with spokes bearing terms such as “verbal directions,” “hands-on control” and “lethal force.” Connecting the wheels is a box that tells the deputy to select a “reasonable response” (underline included) from the second wheel to control the behavior in the first.
Tommy Tucker, a 35-year-old, obese inmate in a psychiatric unit at the San Diego Central Jail, spun those wheels on Feb. 22, 2009, and lost his life. His act of defiance: attempting to take a cup of hot water back to his cell while the unit was in lockdown. Within minutes, the perfect storm of brutality—pepper spray, a misplaced chokehold and being handcuffed, facedown on the floor—resulted in his death.
As CityBeat reported in the first installment of its investigative series, “60 Dead Inmates,” San Diego County has the highest mortality rate among California largest jail systems based on data from 2007 to 2012. Tucker was one of 12 deaths in San Diego jail custody in 2009, the highest number of deaths in a single year recorded by the five-facility system during that period.
The official cause of Tucker’s death was anoxic encephalopathy—brain damage due to oxygen starvation. What makes Tucker’s death unique is the secrecy surrounding it.
Tucker’s family in Alabama didn’t know he’d died violently. They were informed through an organ-donation service, which originally had received false information that Tucker died from a traumatic brain injury. It wasn’t until another inmate contacted Tucker’s girlfriend that the family began to suspect foul play. A full 17 months passed before they received the medical examiner’s report. When they read it was a homicide, they hired a lawyer. continue reading...