Riverside Sheriff's Department.
Riverside Sheriff's Department. Credit: wikipedia.com

S.E. Williams |

Since before Chad Bianco took office there were concerns regarding his efficacy and qualifications. Soon, those concerns expanded to include his extremist, right wing philosophy and in other cases the shifting away from the professional image of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. 

All of this coupled with questionable use of force incidents and deteriorating conditions related to the health and welfare of inmates in county jails has led to the current patterns and practices investigation into the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department by the California Department of Justice. 

Now, we are learning more about the maltreatment of inmates trapped in Riverside County jail facilities, and as a result, the clearer the picture becomes of the wanton and failed leadership of Chad Bianco. 

The lawsuit

A lawsuit filed last week by family members of Richard Matus Jr., an inmate who died in custody at Riverside County’s Cois M. Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta last year,  accused Bianco and his minions of multiple failures of responsibility. As noted in the document filed with the court, the lawsuit hopes  “to bring to public light the deliberate disregard for safety and protection carried out by the individual defendants in the present action.” Included at the top of the list of defendants is of course, none other than Chad Bianco.

Richard Matus Jr., pictured here with his young children was an inmate who died in custody at Riverside County’s Cois M. Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta in 2022. (source: gov.uscourts.cacd.879172).

The complaint states the obvious, that Riverside County has a long history for failing to meet the medical needs of those in its custody. The complaint also stresses how this failure is the reason the county continues to operate under a court approved Consent Decree. The Decree, however, seems to have done little to mitigate the problems in Riverside jails. 

As noted in the lawsuit against the county, despite this history and the court’s previous intervention, by the time Matus entered the county facility last year, the jail was infested with “endemic, ongoing and unabated risks of injury or death to inmates”. It was these risks, the lawsuit contends, that resulted in the death of Matus on August 11, 2022.  Yet, this is only part of the story. 

Falsification of records

What may ultimately prove equally as significant relative to the allegations against Bianco and his squad is that the department may have falsified records about injuries and/or deaths. 

I find this significant because it means anything and everything the department previously claims about the status of those who have died in custody is suspect.  

Matus experienced a medical emergency that went unnoticed for a period of time and when his condition was discovered, the emergency medical attention he received was purportedly inadequate. 

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”

At the time of his death 29 year-old Matus,was not convicted of any a crime as he was a pretrial detainee. In other words–innocent until proven guilty.  

The complaint alleges Bianco and team provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice regarding how it classified pretrial detainees who died in custody. They accomplished this classifying “pretrial” detainees like Matus as “sentenced” inferring they were post conviction prisoners. 

It is believed this misclassification was intentional so as to impose a higher degree of culpability standard to the deceased. In my opinion, it also helps shape community opinions about those who died in custody  as convicted criminal when for most, this is not true.  Sadly, reports indicate that county jails can be a death sentence for pretrial detainees.

The bottom line however, is that no one should die in custody whether or not they’ve been convicted. 

The Matus claim is the first of many more to come according to the family’s attorney. 

In addition to the dysfunction Bianco has brought to the community due to his failed leadership, the patterns and practices audit may prove to be the tip of the iceberg. It now appears taxpayers should prepare for millions of dollars in settlement costs as the Matus family attorney has warned there are many more to come. 

Of course this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real. 

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.