Omar Moreno Aroyo, who died in a San Diego County jail in 2021 hours after his arrest, should never have been detained, according to an independent investigation.
According to the investigation carried out by the county law enforcement review committee, the deputies should have written him a ticket. Instead, they took him to the Central Men’s Prison and changed his charges so that they could detain him.
Then, during the detention, a deputy failed to check the scan of his body when Arroyo was taken to jail to see if he had swallowed a foreign object.
Later in a cell, Arroyo collapsed and had “seizure-like activity,” but it was more than an hour before lawmakers found the 33-year-old, who had not responded.
“One last movement of the body was observed at 9:44 pm,” reads the report of the report of the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Committee. “None of the other detainees in the cell helped or called for help. (Arogio) was found not to have responded at 10:49 p.m. during the night hard count. “
In all, investigators have made five allegations of misconduct against four lawmakers. The findings will be reviewed on Tuesday by the evaluation board of all volunteers.
None of the MPs involved agreed to interview the outside investigators, as is his right under the collective bargaining agreement between the county and the union representing the sheriff’s deputies.
The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the findings.
Arroyo was the first of 18 people to die in the sheriff’s custody last year, the deadliest year in San Diego County jail since at least 2000.
San Diego County has the highest prison mortality rate among California’s largest counties in years. The California state auditor last month released a report noting that 185 people died in custody in the county between 2006 and 2020 – a total that does not include the 18 deaths in 2021.
Arroyo was using drugs and suffered a mental breakdown at his home in Julian on the night of January 6, 2021, when his wife called 911 for help.
A lawsuit filed by his wife, Tammy Wilson, says Arroyo was “in a state of acute intoxication and agitation with methamphetamine” when his sheriff’s deputies arrested him at their home. He said he should have been taken to hospital.
Although the call was recorded as a mental health case, the sheriff’s deputies arrested Arroyo on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs. They also found a pipe used to smoke methamphetamine inside the house, the researchers said.
According to law enforcement protocols designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in county jails, Arroyo should not have been held in jail, the review by the review committee found. Instead, he should have been reported and released with the promise that he would appear in court later.
Instead, he was transferred about 60 miles to jail in the city center. It was there that one of the MPs who had transferred Arroyo realized he had made a mistake, investigators said.
“An attempt was made to release (Arroyo) the detention process in the middle,” the researchers found. “Release was not allowed per detention staff.”
At one point, the research report notes, Arroyo’s accusation that he was under the influence of drugs changed to an accusation that he was drunk in public, which allowed him to go to jail.
During the detention, Arroyo underwent a body scan to determine if he had swallowed anything inappropriate.
“The results of the scan appeared to indicate some kind of abnormality, which the medical examiner’s records suggested was a ‘possible bag of illegal substance,'” the report said.
But the deputy who operated the scanner did not look at the results, the researchers found.
“The operator was seen constantly looking at the papers while conducting the scan,” the report said, citing surveillance footage. “It then made the scan brighter and at the same time moved away from the machine.”
Investigators could not determine if the deputy looked at the scan image “but no further action was taken,” the report said.
According to the rules of the Sheriff’s Department, the deputy had to ask Arroyo about the anomaly and do a secondary scan, the report notes.
If the material had been identified as a potentially dangerous substance, Arroyo would have been placed on a “smuggling watch”, meaning it would have been placed under closer scrutiny.
Around 9:40 p.m., Arroyo was in a cell with other detainees wearing a face mask. The video showed him putting something in his mouth – “probably the mask”, the report says – and then he fell to the floor. Nearby detainees did nothing to help Arroyo or alert prison staff, the report said.
He was found not to have responded more than an hour later and was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.
Until then, Wilson was out of jail waiting for her husband to be released. But she was not told that her husband had died by 5 a.m. the next day.
An autopsy found that Arroyo had died from airway obstruction caused by “swallowing a cloth mask and food bolus”, with acute methamphetamine poisoning being a contributing factor.
Attorney Julia Yoo, who represents Wilson in the county’s unjust death case, described Arroyo Prison’s treatment as “surprisingly incompetent.”
“Omar Moreno (Arroyo) had to get a ticket,” said Yo. “It’s the very definition of deliberate indifference to construct a criminal charge just to be able to put a man in jail, knowing full well that they had no excuse.”
The findings of the inquiry are scheduled to be discussed at the meeting of the review committee on Tuesday night.
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