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Judge agrees to unseal San Diego Sheriff's Dept. records regarding inmate deaths

City News Service, July 11, 2023.

A San Diego federal judge this week approved a request from local news organizations to unseal sheriff's department records regarding inmate deaths and injuries at San Diego County jails.

The ruling concerns records from the sheriff's Critical Incident Review Board, an internal oversight body that reviews and investigates inmate deaths and injuries within the jails.

In her written ruling, U.S. District Judge Jinsook Ohta said there was a legitimate public interest in the contents of the reports and ordered that they may be released with certain redactions to the intervening news organizations -- the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, and Prison Legal News.

Attorneys for the county filed documents on Tuesday indicating their intent to appeal the ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. While Ohta denied a request from the county to stay her order pending the appeal, a stay could be ordered by the appeals court.

Ohta wrote in her ruling that the public's demand to see the sheriff's internal records has escalated "because of a high number of inmate deaths in San Diego County jails."

The county's in-custody mortality rate is among the highest in the state. Nine people have died in San Diego County custody this year.

Ohta's ruling also highlights a campaign pledge from Sheriff Kelly Martinez to release Critical Incident Review Board reports if elected and the subsequent reversal of that promise.

"The fact that transparency into the CIRB process became the subject of campaign promises evidences the level of public interest in this information," the judge wrote.

The news organizations sought to unseal the records following settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Frankie Greer, who was seriously injured in 2018 while in custody. The records in question relate to 12 county jail deaths that preceded Greer's injury.

Greer suffered from chronic seizures and requested a bottom bunk while in custody, but his attorney alleged jail medical staff did not properly order him placed in a lower bunk and he was assigned to a top bunk. A few days later, he suffered a seizure, fell from the bed and his head struck the floor.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported earlier this year that through the settlement, the county agreed to pay him $7.75 million.




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