Sheriff's Office Reports Inmate Dies in Custody

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Source: Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office

On Wednesday, January 12, 2022, at 2:03 a.m., 45-year-old Jonathan Paul Thomas died at the Santa Barbara County Main Jail. Thomas was arrested by the Santa Maria Police Department on Tuesday, January 11, 2022, at approximately 9:32 p.m. for domestic violence (misdemeanor) and false imprisonment (felony). Thomas was transported by Santa Maria Police to the Main Jail where he was booked at approximately 1:32 a.m. on January 12, 2022. Thomas was being held on $10,000 bail.

Prior to, and during the booking process, Thomas made statements about suicide, was deemed a danger to himself, and was escorted to a single-occupant safety cell. What is clear so far in the investigation is that once inside the safety cell, custody deputies removed Thomas’ clothing, he was placed face down onto the floor of the cell, his handcuffs were removed, and custody deputies exited the cell. Minutes later, custody deputies noticed that Thomas was not moving. Custody deputies then began lifesaving measures, including CPR, and requested an emergency medical response. Wellpath medical, County Fire and American Medical Response all responded, but sadly, lifesaving measures were unsuccessful, and Thomas was declared dead.

Thomas’ next-of-kin have been notified. The cause of death is unknown at this time, and the investigation remains ongoing. An autopsy has been scheduled for Thursday, January 13, 2022.

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a-1642107600 Jan 13, 2022 01:00 PM
Sheriff's Office Reports Inmate Dies in Custody

RIP, that is an awful way to die, on the jail floor. "Minutes later" they checked on him, why so ambiguous? 5 minutes, 50 minutes, 500 minutes? If the autopsy is today, why not do this press release after that?

a-1642126907 Jan 13, 2022 06:21 PM
Sheriff's Office Reports Inmate Dies in Custody

Are you new here? We've got major problems with the local custody deputies. This is far from the first person they have killed or gravely injured. We have all paid a LOT of money in settlements due to these bozos. They are not to be trusted.

edney Jan 13, 2022 06:24 PM
Sheriff's Office Reports Inmate Dies in Custody

215 minutes later...

That said, it is possible that he climbed up onto the toilet and repeatedly dove forward onto his head.
Protip to SBSO. If you do not already have cameras in the "safety cell", please do so for the sake of our tax dollars

LocalsOnly Jan 14, 2022 07:32 AM
Sheriff's Office Reports Inmate Dies in Custody

These "safety" cells aren't particularly safe - they are dirty, cold, hard concrete boxes, the only feature being a grate in the ground for relieving yourself.

Neither can the way custody deputies use them be considered "safe." Leaving people - people who are going through mental health crises, drug-induced psychosis, or just having the worst day of their life - all alone, butt naked (that's typically how people are deposited there), with barely any supervision in a filthy concrete coffin. I've seen people smash their head into mush by repeatedly headbutting the wall while yells for assistance from nearby general population inmates go unheeded, people smearing feces everywhere and even eating it (deep cleaning a safety cell is perhaps the worst job a trustee can be called out for), and occupants pleading for razors/cloth from other inmates (yeah, to kill themselves).

LocalsOnly Jan 14, 2022 07:32 AM
Sheriff's Office Reports Inmate Dies in Custody

And then there is the more malicious use of the safety cells.. Custody deputies leaving inmates in safety cells for hours/days when they are filthy, covered in pepper spray, and/or injured. COs roughly tossing people head first into the concrete while their hands are handcuffed behind their back (eh?). Sure, sometimes it is a product of negligence, but sometimes the COs make it clear that they are doing it because one of them got annoyed or felt disrespected.

LocalsOnly Jan 14, 2022 07:32 AM
Sheriff's Office Reports Inmate Dies in Custody

For 6 months I was in East-23 (at that time it was STP, the drug program tank) which is right next to a few of these 'safety' cells and I saw some horrendous things. Besides the above-mentioned situations, I once witnessed a horrific scene of abuse. A CO was walking an inmate past the back door of our tank, his hands were handcuffed behind his back and he happened to stumble slightly. The CO immediately slammed this guy face-first into the floor and started to bend his arm upwards while kneeling on his back. The inmate wasn't resisting or causing a big fuss, just wriggling a little while pleading "I didn't do nothing, please stop, please stop, that hurts, please stop" with tears welling in his eyes. Then.. *pop!* And a bloodcurdling shriek. It was then that the custody deputy saw me standing just a few feet away behind the bars of our tank's back exit. He closed the door so I couldn't see anymore and they tossed him into a neighboring 'safety' cell.

These images are burned into my memory, but even more haunting was the agonized wails and cries for help of this poor soul while he was left to languish in a 'safety' cell for hours without medical care. That night I was concerned for my safety and well-being, since every inmate is aware of the lengths that COs will go in order to cover their indiscretions.

LocalsOnly Jan 14, 2022 07:34 AM
Sheriff's Office Reports Inmate Dies in Custody

I had the pleasure to spend an afternoon in one of these cells too. I had a meeting with my lawyer in the intake building and when we were done the COs said they weren't ready to walk me back to my tank and were going to put me in a "safety" cell for a little while. "Take off all your clothes, it's policy." I ended up sitting there with no clothes in a filthy concrete box for an unknown amount of hours. I tried to politely ( the only way you'll get any 'favors' in the jail) alert passing COs when it was clear I had been forgotten about, but the most I got was an indifferent glance. It wasn't until the shift change that a deputy checked on me. When they realized I had been left in there all day with no food or water, a look of horror came over their face. Finally they had 3 minutes of spare time to walk me back to my tank. Never got the dinner I missed either - it was taco night too :(. Now can you imagine the consequences of that type of negligence if I was actually going through a crisis??

Long story short: this death sounds all bad, as is the way the SBSD uses safety cells.

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