Credit: West Valley Detention Center (source: justicesecurity.us)

S. E. Williams

On Monday, August 1, 2022  deputies at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga responded to an unresponsive inmate. 

Although deputies and the facilities medical staff purportedly performed CPR when the city’s fire department arrived on scene, the inmate was pronounced dead. The deceased was reportedly arrested July 27 for resisting an executive officer. Resisting an officer should not result in a death sentence. 

Neither, I venture to guess, did the alleged crime of another San Bernardino County jail inmate who died in custody at the High Desert Detention Center in Adelanto about 10 days before. No further details about this inmate are available pending notification of family. 

Both deaths are pending investigation.

Those are not the only untimely, in custody, deaths in San Bernardino County in the last 12 months–at least ten other inmates have died in the care of the county’s Sheriff’s Department.

“Imprisonment: It is a cruel and useless substitute for the elimination of those conditions–poverty, unemployment, homelessness, desperation, racism, greed–which are at the root of most punished crime. The crimes of the rich and powerful go mostly unpunished.”

Howard Zinn

Yet, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics among those confined to county jails nationwide, “About 65% of jail inmates were awaiting court action on a current charge, while the remaining 35% were serving a sentence or awaiting sentencing on a conviction.” 

These people, most “still innocent because they have yet to be proven guilty,” according to the laws of this nation, do not deserve to die in county jails. 

Not surprisingly Blacks are overrepresented in the number of in-custody deaths in key categories across the country according to the same 2019 report.

  • The illness mortality rate per 100,000 was highest among Blacks at 83 deaths per 100K
  • The heart disease mortality rate was highest among Blacks at 50 per 100K 
  • The mortality rate from drug or alcohol intoxication, accidents, and homicides was second highest among Blacks at 25 per 100K inmates, second only to American Indian/Alaska Native at 33 per 100K 

There is something else interesting in the report that might serve as a red flag and that is the percent of local jail inmates by time served before death. The Bureau of Justice Statistics report for 2019 and 2020 shows the greatest number of in custody deaths in local jails occur within the first seven days of incarceration.

(source: bjs.ojp.gov)

Whatever the reason for these deaths, San Bernardino County jail inmate deaths at least in the cases cited above, fit the paradigm. 

The idea of so many people dying indiscriminately in our county’s jails should be concerning to us as a community and should warrant a serious investigation. 

Some of you might argue that the deaths are being investigated by the Sheriff’s Specialized Investigations Division. But I, for one, do not trust the Sheriff’s Department to conduct serious and impartial investigations into deaths that occur among those charged to their care, in their facilities and on their watch. 

Nor am I convinced of the impartiality of the county’s coroner’s office to determine accurate causes of death when the coroner is also under the jurisdiction of the County Sheriff.

Just like the Riverside County Sheriff, Chad Bianco, was ushered into another term by a small percentage of voters in the June primary. The same holds true for San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus with one exception. 

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco initially came to office as the result of an election–and although I disagreed with the selection, he was chosen by the voters in 2018. Sheriff Dicus however was selected by the county’s previous sheriff and anointed by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors–the people did not have a say and he held on to his position as the result of low voter turnout in a non-presidential election year when voter turnout is traditionally abysmal. 

Despite popular belief, County Sheriffs are not all powerful. There should be calls for an independent body to investigate in custody deaths in San Bernardino County. This is especially warranted in light of the Sheriff Department’s history of inmate abuse as evidenced by the Torture, Civil Rights violations that led to the department being placed under a Consent Decree in December 2018

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

Postscript: Inmates are also dying in Riverside County jails. On Wednesday, August 10, the 8th inmate in recent months was found dead at the Cois Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.

S.E. Williams

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.