Santa Clara settles jail death case, riot gun used on mentally ill inmate

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Clara County is paying a big settlement to the family of a jail inmate, who died after a violent confrontation with guards that included the use of a riot gun at close range. The I-Team's Dan Noyes first broke this news on Twitter.



Walter Roches' mother knows that no amount of money will bring her son back, but she hopes the settlement brings about change in the way inmates are treated-- especially those suffering from mental illness.

RELATED: Family of inmate shot with riot gun sues Santa Clara County

The settlement agreement obtained by the I-Team shows that Santa Clara County is paying the family of Walter Roches $700,000, after he died at the Main Jail in San Jose, September 2015.

Sarah Marinho, the Roches family attorney, told us Tuesday, "This amount reflects that the jail messed up and the sheriff office is responsible for his death."

The county did not admit liability or wrongdoing, as part of the settlement.

Walter Roches was 32 when he arrived at the Main Jail in San Jose with a documented history of mental illness. After he said he was sad and possibly suicidal, deputies tried to move him to another floor, but he wouldn't respond, falling into what jail sources told me seemed like a catatonic state.

Guards opened the food port in his jail door and shot pepper spray several times, then a more potent tear gas. No response. Then, they shot him at close range with metal-bead filled plastic projectiles from an FN-303 riot gun "three times". Still no response. So, the jail sent a cell extraction team to take him down.

"He was beaten head to toe, in fact, contusions from the top of his scalp all the way down to his feet," said Marinho. "And of course we know the one on his abdomen 12 inches in length."

Roches refused medical treatment and died a week later.

Sheriff Laurie Smith refused an interview about using the riot gun at such close range, against manufacturer guidelines. But Dan Noyes caught up to her at a news conference in December 2015.

Dan: "Have you now banned the use of the FN303 riot gun with a mentally-ill inmate as other facilities have?"

Sheriff: "We have banned it entirely."

But then last year, a source inside the sheriff's department sent me these photos-- a pallet of FN303 riot guns, being used, once again at the Santa Clara County Jails.

Walter Roches' mother keeps his high school diploma on the wall of her Central American home. Her attorney says she knows the settlement won't bring her son back, but she hopes it sends a message.

"She sent her son to America to have a better life, not to be killed by the people who were supposed to be taking care of him," said the family's attorney.

The sheriff's department declined to be interviewed about today's settlement and referred us to county counsel's office, but they too have not provided a comment.

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