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Prisoner Died of Natural Causes, Sheriff Says : Jail: Law enforcement officials deny allegations that the ailing inmate was beaten by deputies.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An inmate who died after being forced by San Diego County sheriff’s deputies into a special cell at County Jail downtown appears to have died of natural causes, not from any confrontation with deputies, Sheriff’s Department officials said Saturday.

Disputing a published report that ailing inmate Thomas Vill, 20, was beaten by deputies, sheriff’s spokesman Glenn Revell said preliminary results of an autopsy conducted Saturday show that Vill showed “no sign of injury or trauma to the body.” The cause of death, however, remained unclear pending further medical tests, Revell said.

Sheriff’s homicide detectives, called to investigate Vill’s death Friday, interviewed several inmates and found no evidence linking deputies to a beating, Revell said. A homicide investigation is routine in any case in which an inmate dies, Sheriff Jim Roache said.

“There is no information that’s been presented to me that makes me believe there might be some validity to” allegations of a beating, Roache said. “Likewise, I have not received any information that there is no possibility it might be correct.” A conclusion, he said, will be reached following a final autopsy report and further investigation.

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Vill, a transient, died at 12:37 a.m. Friday at UC San Diego Medical Center. He was arrested July 7 by Chula Vista police on suspicion of grand theft and burglary, and complained early last Wednesday of difficulty breathing, headache and nausea, sheriff’s Sgt. Roy Stamper said. At 5:55 a.m. that day, over his objections and after a struggle, Vill was placed in a padded safety cell for medical observation, Stamper said.

To get Vill in the cell, deputies had to use arm holds and other restraint techniques, Revell said. The techniques did not include a neck restraint, called the carotid restraint, that in the past has led to inmate injuries and deaths, he said.

According to a story published Saturday in the San Diego Tribune, two other inmates said deputies attacked Vill. One inmate demanded anonymity. The other, Robert Bennett, said Vill was dragged into a padded room and assaulted by as many as five deputies, the Tribune said.

Neither the anonymous inmate nor Bennett could be located Saturday for comment. Bennett was released Wednesday from jail, the paper reported. Revell said he did not know whether the anonymous inmate or Bennett had been among those interviewed by detectives.

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About five minutes after Vill was forced into the cell, Stamper said, a deputy noticed that he was “unresponsive.” Vill was taken to the hospital, where he died two days later, Stamper said.


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