Three Santa Clara County sheriff’s jail deputies were charged Tuesday in the slaying of a mentally ill inmate.
County jail Deputies Matthew Farris, Jereh Lubrin and Rafael Rodriguez each were charged with one count of murder in the death of Michael Tyree. They were also accused of assaulting another inmate, Juan Villa, according to Santa Clara Superior Court documents.
"Michael Tyree was not protected by those correctional officers who were supposed to protect him," Santa Clara County Dist. Atty. Jeff Rosen said. "Instead, they killed him and we have now charged them with murder."
Farris, Lubrin and Rodriguez were arrested Thursday after the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation into Tyree’s death.
Tyree, 31, died of internal bleeding due to trauma, officials said.
Farris, Lubrin and Rodriguez radioed that they had found Tyree in his sixth-floor cell unresponsive, naked and covered in feces, and they tried to revive him, Sheriff Laurie Smith said.
But sheriff’s investigators say the jail deputies beat him to death.
Investigators said the incident started about 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 after Tyree, who was being held on misdemeanor drug and theft charges, placed his prescription medication in his pocket instead of swallowing it, according to court documents prepared by Sgt. Marc Carrasco.
Tyree was housed in a wing of the main jail for those in protective custody or who have special needs. After Tyree was confronted by Lubrin, he ate the pills.
Then, about 10:38 p.m., Lubrin and Ferris began searching the inmates’ cells within a sixth-floor unit for contraband. Ten minutes later, Rodriguez joined them.
As jail deputies searched the cells, they confronted Villa about a dispute he had had with another inmate earlier that day, Carrasco said.
Lubrin, Farris and Rodriguez hit Villa in the head and twisted his arms, leaving visible marks, Carrasco said.
When the jail deputies got to Tyree’s cell, he was heard saying, “Do I have to get up?" at which point, Farris ordered Tyree to get up, Carrasco said.
Tyree was heard screaming, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Stop.”
Minutes of screaming, thumping, wall-banging and “what sounded like blows to a person’s body” were heard throughout the cell unit, Carrasco said.
Tyree had injuries above his eye, near his chin, on his cheek and on his arms, legs, back and hips.
A blow to his lower left back caused significant damage to his spleen and liver, leading to internal bleeding, the sergeant said.
Tyree probably died within minutes to an hour after the confrontation, Carrasco said.
Afterward, Lubrin, Farris and Rodriguez continued their cell searches and did not call for medical assistance, he said.
It was after midnight when Lubrin returned to the cell for a welfare check and radioed, “Man down.” Tyree later was declared dead.
In a jailhouse interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Rodriguez denied any involvement in Tyree’s death.
At a news conference last week, Smith said she was disappointed and disgusted by the deputies’ actions.
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