by Matt Clarke
Santa Clara County, California has agreed to pay $3.6 million to the family of a mentally ill man who was beaten to death by guards in the county’s San Jose jail. The three guards who killed him, who had attacked another prisoner the day before, were charged with murder and assault.
Michael James Pipkin Tyree, 31, was homeless and mentally ill when he was booked into Santa Clara County’s jail system to serve a five-day sentence for petty theft. He was housed in a section of the jail reserved for prisoners in protective custody or having special needs while he awaited transfer to a mental health facility.
On August 26, 2015, a nurse told guard Jereh Lubrin that Tyree had pocketed his medication instead of taking it. When Lubrin confronted him, Tyree screamed that the nurse was “a liar and a rapist” but produced the medicine and took it. A few hours later, after locking the prisoners in for the night, Lubrin and guards Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriguez made rounds of the cells to search for contraband.
The previous day they had confronted prisoner Juan Villa, 48, over a dispute he had with another prisoner, hitting him in the head and twisting his arms, leaving visible marks.
When they went to Tyree’s cell on August 26, other prisoners heard him say, “Do I have to get up?” when Lubrin and Farris entered. Then they heard Tyree screaming, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Stop,” followed by the sounds of “thumping, wall banging and what sounded like blows to a person’s body.” At that point, Rodriguez, who was standing watch at the door, closed it almost completely so that less noise was audible.
Tyree received injuries “above his eye, near his chin and on his cheek. There were numerous injuries to his upper arms, legs, back and both hips,” Sgt. Marc Carrasco with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office said in a sworn statement of facts. “The most significant injury was inflicted on Inmate Tyree’s back. That injury caused severe damage to Inmate Tyree’s spleen and liver. The internal bleeding from this injury caused Inmate Tyree to die within minutes to no more than an hour.”
However, no one checked on Tyree after he was beaten in his cell for over an hour. He was eventually found lying in pools of vomit and feces, and pronounced dead soon thereafter. Santa Clara County Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph O’Hara ruled his death a homicide by blunt force trauma. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.48; June 2016, p.63].
Lubrin, Farris and Rodriquez were charged in Tyree’s death, and convicted of second-degree murder on June 1, 2017. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p.34]. They face 15 years to life in prison.
According to CBS News, “Rodriguez’s Google search history showed search queries the morning Tyree was found dead in his cell including ‘can you die from punches to you,’ ‘can you die if someone punches you in the armpit’ and ‘can you die if someone punches you in the rib.’”
Tyree’s family filed a wrongful death claim against the county that settled for $3.6 million in December 2016. Attorney Paula Canny represented Tyree’s two sisters, Shannon Tyree and Elizabeth Ott, who will receive 15% of the settlement after legal fees and costs are deducted. Valerie Rose and Matt Davis represented Tyree’s 7-year-old daughter, who will receive the remaining 85%.
Canny praised Sheriff Laurie Smith for “swiftly bringing justice to the rogue correctional officers” who killed Tyree, though that is little consolation for his family.
Sources: Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office, www.photographyisnotacrime.com, www.ocregister.com, www.mercurynews.com, www.sfgate.com, www.cbsnews.com
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