NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Fentanyl concerns inside juvie after a locked-up teen dies from overdose

Fentanyl concerns inside juvie after a locked-up teen dies from overdose
Posted at 9:16 AM, Dec 20, 2022

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - More than a year after a teenager who was locked up in juvie died from a fentanyl overdose, ABC 10News is still working to get answers from the County of San Diego about the circumstances surrounding his death.

In September of 2021,16-year-old Alan A. was found dead inside the Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. His family asked ABC 10News not to use his last name. After seven months, ABC 10News received documents that were requested from county officials that are related to the incident. More than a dozen of the nearly 200 pages returned to ABC 10News have redactions.

Paul Parker is the Executive Officer of the San Diego County Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, known as CLERB, which reviews in-custody deaths. “This case, specifically, is now our number one death case,” he stated.

“[We] don't see any indication in the paperwork of how the fentanyl got in, why it got in [and] what protocols, if any, have changed. There's very little information to give us context about the situation. Is that common?” ABC 10News asked. “I can tell you what we look at are those very things. We look at what the investigation revealed about how the substance got into the facility, how the person had access to it [and] how soon this person was found,” he added.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner's report shows that he was last seen alive at about 8:30 the night before his death. The report reads in part, "The decedent was witnessed to be leaving cell 404, [whose] inmate was suspected to be dealing fentanyl." According to the report, he was found unresponsive approximately ten hours later. It goes on to read in part that, “A small piece of black paper was located inside the plastic shelving unit with a white powder noted, along with another small piece of black paper rolled up."

The jails around San Diego County are run by the Sheriff's Department, but the Juvenile Detention Facility is run by the San Diego County Probation Department, which declined to comment about the case, citing pending litigation.

Sheriff's officers oversaw the investigation into the teen’s death, but wouldn't give details, saying they're exempt under juvenile confidentiality laws.

County records show an email from a narcotics detective stating in part, "Attached is a copy of my report. Again, this is only the narcotic possession and sales side,” but the referenced report was not given to ABC 10News.

A lieutenant who was covering the homicide unit wrote in part, "I have researched your inquiry and I am unable to provide any details of the case or the investigation, including how the fentanyl entered the facility. All related matters are confidential to the public under juvenile confidentiality law.”

An email provided by the County reveals that a deputy district attorney had been assigned to the investigation, but his office would not provide details for the same reason.

“The government has the responsibility for the care in-custody for those folks for which it is responsible,” Parker stated. He and other CLERB members have been pushing for change from the Sheriff's Department over the region's notorious adult inmate death problem. A report from his team published earlier this year revealed in part that “after considering countywide mortality rates, San Diego jails have the highest number of unexplained deaths" in California.

There have been 198 inmates this year alone who were given Narcan after it was suspected that they overdosed, according to Sheriff’s records. It’s been a crisis that Sheriff’s officials have previously told ABC10News that they’re trying to fix.

“I think we need to get out of the mindset that ‘criminals’ deserve whatever happens to them when they willingly take drugs. How many of us watching this right now have had family members impacted by addiction? I know that I have, and I wouldn't want them to die,” added Parker.

Legal settlements and damages from in-custody deaths come out of county risk management funds. ABC 10News asked county officials for the dollar amounts paid out to families since 2015. As of publishing time, ABC 10News was still waiting for the figures.

However, Alan was in the Juvenile Detention Facility, which is overseen by probation officials. A county spokesperson wrote that there have been no other fatal or non-fatal overdoses in at least five years.

In November, Parker and his team got copies of the investigation into Alan’s incident and plan to dig for details about how fentanyl made its way through the doors.

Public records show that, "Officers shall only conduct a strip search of a youth being booked on certain charges and only after obtaining the permission of the watch commander."

According to a county spokesperson, officers "are not screened as they enter the jobsite each day”. However, “[officers] go through a thorough and lengthy hiring process the same as any other peace officer.”

“We're [going to] look at the policies and the laws that were in place at the time of the circumstance to see if there's anything that could be changed [and] if there's anything that may not exist right now that we’d recommend that may prevent further deaths,” Parker added.

The law firm representing Alan’s family stated that it filed a government tort claim to alert the County of its intent to file a lawsuit but that suit has not yet been filed.