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Community activists, families react to state report on San Diego County jail deaths

Posted at 4:51 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 19:51:49-05

SAN DIEGO, CA (KGTV) - Community activists and families who have lost loved ones in custody gathered outside the San Diego County Sheriff Department headquarters Friday, responding to the disturbing findings by the California State Auditor about deaths in county jails.

The auditor's report stated that the Sheriff’s Department “has not taken sufficient steps to prevent the high number of deaths in its jails, and the Sheriff’s Department’s failure to consistently provide adequate medical and mental health care likely contributed to its high number of in-custody deaths.”

“We’re here in frustration that it took this report for any traction to really actually happen,” said Yusef Miller with the North County Equity and Justice Coalition.

The state’s report said that from 2006 through 2020, 185 people died in San Diego County jails. The report said that is, "one of the highest totals among counties in the State. The high rate of deaths in San Diego County’s jails compared to other counties raises concerns about underlying systemic issues with the Sheriff’s Department’s policies and practices."

“My brother was 22 for 19 days,” said Sabrina Weddle, the older sister of Saxon Rodriguez, who died in custody in 2021. “He was arrested on July 16th and was pronounced dead at San Diego County jail on July 20th.”

Weddle said her brother died of a fentanyl overdose in jail in 2021; his death was not included in the state’s report.

“That number was out before my brother died and several other people died. These numbers keep rising; when is there going to be change? Why do laws have to be put in place for people to stop dying?” She asked.

“If my brother overdosed on fentanyl, where did he get it? He was four days into jail. Are they not doing searches properly?”

Rodriguez’s mother, Sundee Weddle, said she has also been trying to get answers related to his death.

“They make it really difficult for us to get closure, to get justice. I do feel that someone needs to be held accountable for my son’s death.”

“There need to be some changes, and they’re not transparent,” said AC Mills, whose son Kevin Mills also died in custody. He said his death was determined to be from natural causes, but he believes he was neglected behind bars and didn’t receive the care he needed.

“What they did is they abandoned him in that cell,” he said. “Gore is retiring, said he’s going to go take care of his wife, but what about us that have family members? My wife cannot stand hearing my son’s name anymore. She goes to pieces… she goes to pieces,” he said.

In a statement about the audit, the Sheriff’s Department said in part, “State auditors conducted their review of the Sheriff’s Department from July 2021 to December 2021. The audit was extensive and included every aspect of Sheriff’s Department’s record of in-custody deaths, policies, procedures, facility maintenance, and staff records. The department was open and transparent during the audit. We participated and cooperated throughout the entire process. We take the findings of the audit seriously and are taking action to implement the recommendations. Many of JLAC’s recommendations are ones that we provided and completely support. They also align with our existing practices, current, and future plans, as well as proactive efforts to continuously improve health care services and the safety of our jails.”

Miller said more needs to be done.

“We want the AG to get involved to enforce and push for change in legislation, and the governor to support those changes so we can get a change of culture,” he said.