Three deputies who pepper-sprayed an inmate at Men’s Central Jail who later died during a decontamination shower have been cleared of criminal responsibility, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday.
Juan Correa Jr., 31, died Sept. 26, 2017, after being pepper-sprayed by deputies who were trying to break up a fight between the man and his cellmate.
“It is our conclusion that the deputies used reasonable force under the circumstances and are not criminally responsible for Correa’s death,” the district attorney’s report states. “We further find that their actions did not cause [the inmate’s] death.”
On the day of his death, Correa told a deputy who was doing welfare checks, “I’m not feeling right. I need to get out of here,” according to the district attorney’s report. When the deputy moved to handcuff Correa to take him out of the cell, Correa’s cellmate threatened him, prompting Correa to begin fighting with the other man.
The deputy used pepper spray to break up the altercation, Deputy Trina Shrader, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said at the time. Two other deputies who arrived as backup also sprayed the two men who were fighting. Correa then was handcuffed and led away to await medical personnel.
Nine minutes later, Correa slid off a bench and lay in the hallway, according to the district attorney’s report. Two minutes after that, nurses ordered Correa to be taken to the shower to wash off before going to the clinic for treatment. In a photo, Correa can be seen sitting in a wheelchair attended by at least six deputies, three nurses or orderlies and another man out of uniform.
He got into the shower on his own, according to the report, but eight minutes later, laid down on the floor again. When Correa did not respond to deputies, they walked into the shower, found him collapsed with no pulse, and began CPR and called paramedics, who arrived a half-hour later. The medical team pronounced Correa dead within five minutes.
The coroner cited Correa’s cause of death as dilated cardiomyopathy caused by an enlarged heart, according to online records and the district attorney’s report. The coroner told investigators that pepper spray could not have caused the inmate’s death and that Correa’s getting upset and fighting could have elevated his heart rate, causing a lethal arrhythmia in his enlarged heart.
Correa’s parents have filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages against the county, alleging that deputies were negligent in housing their son in Men’s Central Jail and not getting him medical care quickly enough when he showed signs of distress after being pepper-sprayed and shot with a stun gun.
The district attorney’s office said it relied on reports, interviews, photographs and surveillance videos in making its findings and mentioned no use of a stun gun.
Sheriff’s deputies said previously that Correa had serious mental health issues and originally had been housed in the Twin Towers jail because of those problems. The lawsuit alleges that instead of giving Correa immediate mental health treatment, he was transferred to Men’s Central Jail.