I-Team: Another questionable Santa Clara inmate death surfaces

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With more sources calling the I-Team with tips, we've uncovered another questionable death of an inmate that happened inside a Santa Clara County jail. (KGO-TV)

There is new criticism aimed at Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, now that the I-Team has uncovered another questionable death at one of the jails she runs.

More and more sources from inside the jails and inside the sheriff's department are calling the I-Team, so I have stories lined up for the coming weeks. This one is based on autopsy reports I've just obtained.

The Santa Clara County coroner finds that a convicted child molester, 73-year-old Paul Eddy Pierce, died from a broken neck, after feeling chest pains and falling in the shower at Elmwood Jail on June 26.

However, sources tell me the jail did not call out crime scene investigators or the homicide unit and by the time a rookie detective who had never worked a homicide arrived, the scene -- including all the blood evidence -- had been cleaned up.

That raises serious questions at the Prison Law Office in Berkeley. There, Kelly Knapp said, "It's evidence of a lack of supervision, training, accountability."

Sources inside the jail tell me they'll never know if another inmate, or anyone else, attacked Pierce because of the poor investigation.

Two months after the Pierce incident, a mentally-ill inmate, 31-year-old Michael Tyree, was beaten to death at the main jail. Three deputies face murder charges in that case.

Then, in September, when guards wanted to move another mentally-ill inmate, 33-year-old Walter Roches, to the eighth floor psychiatric unit, sources tell me he refused to cuff up. This autopsy report just released confirms what I reported months ago -- officers used pepper spray on him, then "clear out" tear gas, and finally, three rounds from the FN 303 riot gun, shot through the food tray slot.

"That's cruel, and inhumane, and unconstitutional and the state prison system has had to stop that practice," Knapp said.

VIDEO: I-Team exclusive: New details of inmate death at South Bay jail
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The ABC7 News I-Team has new information about a 32-year-old inmate who died at the Santa Clara County Main Jail on Monday.

Through her spokesman, Sheriff Smith refused to be interviewed Friday, but I caught up to her at a news conference last month.

Noyes: "Have you now banned the use of the FN 303 riot gun with a mentally-ill inmate as other facilities have?"
Smith: "We've banned it entirely."

Roches' autopsy found a large purple bruise on his stomach 12.0 inches in width by 7.5 inches in height -- the result of shots from that riot gun, along with head trauma, a nosebleed and other cuts and bruises across his body and limbs from the cell extraction.

However, the autopsy concludes Roches died from "sepsis due to urinary tract illness" and "exhaustive mania due to untreated mental illness."

Retired Santa Cruz County coroner Dr. Richard Mason said, "Mental trauma that occurred during the cell extraction could enhance his mental problems. There's no question of that."

Mason tells me, the Roches' autopsy should have included injuries from the riot gun as part of the cause of death. And he says the sheriff could have farmed out the autopsy to another agency, to ensure objectivity in this controversial case. Smith runs the coroner's office in Santa Clara County.

"Some of the counties in California do that routinely. If they have a death in custody, they do not allow their personnel to do the autopsy," Mason said.

There is a video of that incident, but the sheriff's office insists it's not a public record. I'll keep fighting to bring you the whole story. Sources who've seen it tell me it's very disturbing -- the inmate just sits there, as officers escalate the use of force.

If you have a tip, contact me through the I-Team page or call 1-888-40-I-TEAM.
Related Topics:
newsI-Teaminmatesprisonjail deathsanta clara countyinvestigationuse of forcemurder mysterydeath in custodymysterious deathsuspicious deathsheriffofficer arrestedSan JoseMilpitasBerkley
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