Santa Clara County guards charged with inmates’ murder, assault

The defendants in court.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP, KRON, BCN) — Three Northern California jail guards accused of beating to death a mentally ill inmate have also been charged with assaulting another prisoner.

Santa Clara County prosecutors allege in complaint filed Tuesday that the three assaulted inmate Juan Villa shortly before attacking 31-year-old Michael Tyree on Aug. 26.

The defendants were arraigned Tuesday, and they face life in prison. The deputies wore red Alameda County jail uniforms when they appeared at the Hall of Justice in San Jose with their respective attorneys.

Tyree was found dead in his cell around midnight Aug. 27. Investigators say Tyree died from internal bleeding and suffered significant liver and spleen damage.

“Just as every human being deserves human dignity, every criminal defendant deserves and is entitled to due process, including the three correctional officers we have charged today,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said outside court after the arraignment.

Rosen said his office intends to try all three deputies together.

None of the defendants entered a plea and they are scheduled to return to court for a bail hearing on Sept. 18.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said last week that the three guards were the only people with access to Tyree’s cell the night he died. Other inmates said they heard Tyree screaming in pain that night.

Guards Jereh Lubrin, Rafael Rodriguez and Matthew Farris appeared in court Tuesday, but they didn’t enter a plea. They remain jailed without bail.

On Thursday, the men were arrested on suspicion of murder and assault. They were booked into Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where they are being held without bail.

The deputies also were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy, which they were not charged with after a review by the district attorney’s office, Rosen said.

Tyree was being held on misdemeanor theft and drug possession charges in a single-person cell on the sixth floor “B” wing of the Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose, Sheriff Laurie Smith said. The jail facility is next door to the Hall of Justice.

On the evening of Aug. 26, the deputies were staffed on the “B” wing, which is dedicated for inmates in protective custody or with special needs, Smith said.

Around 7:30 p.m. that day, Tyree claimed his evening medications during “pill call” but placed them in his pocket instead of ingesting it, according to a statement of facts by sheriff’s Sgt. Marc Carrasco filed in court.

A corrections department nurse told Lubrin that Tyree pocketed the medication, Carrasco said.

Lubrin confronted Tyree, who took the pills from his pocket and swallowed them, according to Carrasco.

The inmates, including Tyree, were allowed out of their cells for about an hour for “program time” later that night, when they exchanged old clothes for new clothes, Carrasco said.

At about 10:15 p.m., the inmates were locked back in their cells and roughly 30 minutes later the three deputies conducted a search to make sure no one was hiding extra clothing, according to Carrasco.

The deputies went to Villa’s cell, where they allegedly struck him in the head and twisted his arms after confronting him about a dispute he had with another inmate during program time, Carrasco said.

The trio then went to Tyree’s cell, where Lubrin and Farris went inside while Rodriguez stood outside, according to Carrasco.

Tyree was heard screaming, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Stop,” along with thumps and what sounded like blows to his body that left him wounded, Carrasco said.

An autopsy later conducted on Tyree concluded he died of multiple blunt force injuries and internal lacerations to his spleen, according to county medical examiner Dr. Joseph O’Hara.

The deputies left the wing around 11:10 p.m. and Lubrin returned at 12:07 a.m. on Aug. 27 to carry out welfare checks at the wing, where he issued a “man down” call over his radio at 12:12 a.m., according to Carrasco.

Tyree was pronounced dead about 25 minutes later, Carrasco said.Later on Aug. 27, Lubrin, Rodriguez and Farris were placed on unpaid administrative leave and removed from the main jail facility, according to Smith.

The men were stripped of their badges, equipment and peace officer status, Smith said.

Investigators obtained a warrant for the three deputies, who were arrested on Thursday morning, Smith said.

Smith has called on the FBI to evaluate the jail’s facilities and operations.

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