| CRIMINAL JUSTICE
By Royal Calkins
The family of the latest inmate to die in the Monterey County Jail plans to seek a second autopsy after the Sheriff’s Office procedure couldn’t determine the cause of death, seemingly a suicide.
Twenty-nine-year-old David Sand, a longtime mental health patient, was found dead in his cell early Saturday. He was lying in a pool of his own blood but officials told the family after an autopsy that they didn’t know if he had died from blood loss or possibly a drug overdose. Results of toxicology tests often take weeks or longer, and the county’s official autopsy findings can take much longer. Another inmate, Carlos Chavez, purportedly suffocated himself in the jail last April and sheriff’s officials have said they don’t expect to have his autopsy report available until next April.
David Sand’s father, well-known Carmel Valley Realtor Eric Sand, said Wednesday that his son had been in and out of jails and mental health treatment for years. He said David had been in the Salinas jail since about June and that there were no indications that he had been receiving any type of psychiatric help. Eric Sand said he did not know yet whether David was under a suicide watch that would require jail deputies to check on him regularly.
Chavez should have been on a suicide watch before he allegedly killed himself by stuffing toilet paper down his throat and up his nose, but he apparently was not, according to Sheriff’s Office employees.
David Sand was found on the floor of his cell about 3:45 a.m. Saturday. Jail officials told the family that he was unresponsive when he was sent to a hospital, where he was pronounced deceased. The jail staff told the family he had slashed blood vessels in his leg or legs and appeared to have been trying to use the blood to write something on the cell wall.
Eric Sand said his son had been a heavy drug user for years. He said a sheriff’s detective told him that drugs “are rampant” in the jail, so an overdose can’t be ruled out.
Young Sand, a triplet, grew up in Carmel Valley and attended Carmel High School before graduating in 2012 from the district’s continuation school. His father said his psychiatric issues surfaced when he was about 15 and that he had rotated in and out of jails and other facilities ever since.
“He was a sweet boy who lost touch with reality,” said his father.
Several of his arrests were for drug offenses and probation violations, according to his father. In recent years he was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer in Stanislaus County and a jail staffer in Santa Clara County. He said a Stanislaus County judge sentenced him to 18 months in jail without making provisions for psychiatric treatment but that the sentence was reduced by a third when he was transferred to Monterey County on a jail hold.
Eric Sand said the family was arranging another autopsy and another set of blood tests. He added that he had been in touch with county officials to ask that they ensure an honest investigation. He said that from what he has read about previous deaths, he feared that his son’s death might not be handled professionally.
“I’m determined to get to the bottom of this,” he declared.
Jail deaths are investigated by the coroner’s office, which is part of the Sheriff’s Office, and by the detective division of the Sheriff’s Office. Although coroner’s officials in other jurisdictions say they routinely investigate events leading up to the death as well as determining the cause of death, Monterey County coroner’s representatives have said their only role is to determine the cause of deaths, not what led up to them.
Last month Monterey County and its jail medical provider, Wellpath, agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of another schizophrenia patient, Rafael Ramirez Lara, 57, of Greenfield. According to the lawsuit filed in federal court, Lara was in the jail on and off for about eight months without receiving any psychiatrist treatment. He was found dead in his cell in December 2019 after he apparently consumed so much water that his electrolyte balance was fatally disturbed. The Sheriff’s Office ruled his death a suicide.
In that case, a rookie jail deputy stepped over a pool of water coming from Lara’s cell twice before Lara’s death but failed to enter the cell to check on him. According to sources in the jail, no one was disciplined in connection with the death and the deputy who failed to enter the cell was not questioned as part of the detective division investigation.
Deaths and other issues in the jail, including escapes and rapes of inmates, were issues in the just-concluded sheriff’s race, in which Marina Police Chief Tina Nieto trounced sheriff’s Capt. Joe Moses, who is in charge of the jail.
Moses and acting Undersheriff John Thornburg didn’t respond to emails from Voices on Wednesday asking if Sand was on a suicide watch and where he was housed. His father and a family friend said Sand was being held by himself in a cell designed for two but they did not know what section of the jail he was in.
Moses told Monterey County Weekly that he could not comment. He referred the paper’s questions to County Counsel Les Girard, who said that he could not comment yet but that all the circumstances surrounding the death were unknown, according to the Weekly.
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