San Diego CityBeat
Bernard Joseph Victorianne was a 28-year-old black male with a ticking time bomb in his stomach.
Victorianne was arrested on September 12, 2012, less than two blocks from the San Diego Police Department’s Mid-City station on suspicion of driving under the influence. A week later, he was found dead in his cell—the 60th inmate to die in the custody of the San Diego County jail system since 2007.
Immediately after his arrest, Victorianne was taken to Alvarado Hospital to be treated for alcohol intoxication. Even then, police and medical staff believed the suspect—who was on probation for a number of narcotics offenses—likely had swallowed a bindle of drugs. He was observed overnight, then transferred to the San Diego Central Jail. For the next several days, Victorianne was bounced between sobriety cells, secure units and administrative segregation (a normal housing unit reserved for problematic inmates who need to be separated from the general population) due to his lasting, agitated behavior. He was prescribed Haldol, a powerful anti-psychotic, and anti-anxiety medication.
According to the medical examiner’s report, Sheriff’s deputies couldn’t say exactly when they last saw Victorianne alive. Deputies checked on him in the “early evening” of September 18. He was left unmonitored through the night.
At 4:30 a.m., guards who brought breakfast into his cell found him lying on the floor, naked, but didn’t check whether or not he was conscious. Two-and-a-half hours later, guards began their morning rounds and discovered that Victorianne hadn’t moved. By the time they entered his cell, rigor mortis had begun in his lower extremities.
The official cause of death: methamphetamine toxicity—the baggie had busted in his stomach.
Many questions remain unanswered: Why was Victorianne in an administrative segregation cell rather than a cell where he could be more closely monitored? When exactly did deputies last check on his welfare? Why was he left unobserved overnight when he was suspected to have swallowed a potentially lethal amount of drugs? Why didn’t guards check to see if he was OK when they first entered his cell that morning?
Perhaps most important of all: Did Sheriff’s deputies bring Victorianne to the hospital for the visit scheduled the day before he died? The medical examiner’s report states only that “it was unknown if he attended.”
That information still isn’t publicly known. The Sheriff’s Department declined to answer CityBeat’s questions about Victorianne’s death.
What is known is that Victorianne was the latest casualty in a jail system with one of the highest mortality rates in California.
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Between 2007 and 2012, 60 people died while wards of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s five-jail detention system.
They were 56 men and four women. Thirty-six were white, 15 Hispanic, six African-American, one Korean-American, one Native American and one was a Chinese national. Most suffered from substance abuse and/or mental health issues, and many were transient before their arrest.
Their average age was 46. The youngest was 18—Luis Manuel Lopez from Poway. He was arrested on felony vandalism charges in the fall of 2008, around the time other kids his age would’ve been going off to college. He was transferred from one jail to another, ending up at the George Bailey Detention Facility, where he started displaying symptoms of a cold that rapidly grew worse. When his temperature hit 102 and his heart began beating abnormally fast, Lopez was transferred to UCSD Medical Center. His health continued to decline. After almost two weeks in the hospital, he flat-lined and was resuscitated, but his condition continued to deteriorate; his family chose to withdraw care and ease his suffering with pain killers.
Doctors never determined precisely what killed Lopez. The medical examiner’s report concluded it was “most likely” a bacterial infection that was masked by the antibiotics he received in jail. His death was classified as natural.
The oldest was Thomas Alexander Hough, a senile 72-year-old who was stopped by police for refusing to leave a bus station and then booked into jail for failing to register as a sex offender. Classified as “gravely disabled,” he was first involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital before being transferred to the Vista Detention Center. Hough suffered from diabetes, dementia and alcohol dependency, which combined to leave him subject to periods of confusion, seizures and delirium tremens (“the shakes”). At the Vista jail, Hough was a basket case for three days. He nearly choked on a bologna sandwich, had frequent angry outbursts at staff and refused to go outside during his allotted recreation time. On his fourth evening in jail, he stopped breathing and couldn’t be revived. The medical examiner classified his death as natural due to hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
Of the 60 deaths, 31 were ...