The Civil Grand Jury of Santa Barbara released a report this past weekend, delving into the death of 45-year-old Alexander Ricardo Braid, who died by suicide on July 2018, in Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office custody.
Mr. Braid was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on suspicion of elder abuse and disrupting a wireless device, the News-Press reported on his death last year.
He was drunk, with “toxicology test results… revealed (he) had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit for driving while impaired. In addition, the presence of methamphetamines was detected,” according to the report.
The report dives into the events that led up to Mr. Braid’s death. The report gathered their information from interviews, reports from the sheriff’s office, deputies and other members, family members, jail staff, such as Wellpath employees, Mr. Braid’s family, along with the forensic pathologist, “Miscellaneous documents and records”, including the contract with Wellpath and policy manuals. They also reviewed hours of video, such as body camera and dash-cam footage.
When he was first taken into custody, he started striking his head against the vehicle’s interior after complaining that he was thirsty. He also started calling out to God and continued to strike his head, causing the deputy to radio that the man was “combative” which resulted in several deputies being present when he was taken into the jail itself, according to the report and dash cam video reviewed by the Jury.
The Jury found fault in the sheriff’s office not taking Mr. Braid for a “5150” mental wellness check for his behavior in the car while being transported to the jail. A “5150” allows an officer to “take that person into custody to be brought to a designated mental health facility for an evaluation,” if the officer believes the individual has a mental disorder and presents a danger to himself or others.
When Mr. Braid was brought into the jail, he was questioned by registered nurse. The mental health provider for the jail is Wellpath, whose corporate headquarters is in Nashville, Tenn., according to the company’s website.
The nurse also noted that Mr. Braid refused to answer questions about his mental state and the Jury criticized the sheriff’s office for not conducting a “5150.”
“That refusal, even without his record of a ‘5150’ hold at the time of a prior arrest, should have triggered an immediate psychiatric evaluation,” the report states. The report also accuses the sheriff’s office or Wellpath of not making an effort to review Mr. Braid’s records, which revealed that he had been taken for a “5150” and transported to Cottage Hospital Emergency Department in December 2015 after being arrested.
Mr. Braid hung himself with a t-shirt at 7:25 p.m, though the actual hanging was not caught on camera due to the location being out of sight. Mr. Braid’s hanging was not seen until 7:35 p.m. by a passing deputy, who immediately radioed “man down” and began life-saving procedures. Mr. Braid was pronounced dead at 8:02 p.m. and an autopsy conducted on July 9 placed his cause of death as asphyxiation.
“Despite AB’s prior arrest record, which included a 5150 hold, and despite his palpable agitation, his anger, his apparent state of intoxication, and his repeated self-harming behavior while seated in the patrol car, at his home, and in transit to the Jail, none of the patrol or custody deputies, or the Wellpath nursing staff, recognized that AB potentially was suicidal,” the report states.
The Grand Jury found fault with the conduct of the sheriff’s office. First, they claim that emergency resuscitation equipment was not used to help Mr. Braid nor that any equipment could be located. They further claimed that the equipment malfunctioned and “that there was no log or other documentation showing that required inspections of the Jail’s life-saving equipment had occurred.”
Second, they found a deputy removed “a piece of evidence” from the cell. The deputy also told the Jury that it was a towel. However, the Jury believes that the towel was actually the t-shirt Mr. Braid used to hang himself. The t-shirt was “thrown away” instead of being preserved as evidence.
“The T-shirt later reappeared inside a paper bag at the autopsy, as shown by autopsy photographs. However, the Sheriff’s Department told the Jury the T-shirt was then ‘thrown away’ and not preserved as evidence,” the report states.
Throughout the investigation, the Grand Jury believed that the Sheriff’s Office was uncooperative and accused them of “imped[ing]” the Jury to obtain “highly relevant documents and information.”
“First, throughout the investigation, the Sheriff’s Office impeded the Jury’s ability to obtain what we believed to be highly relevant documents and information, by ignoring requests, making delayed or partial responses, or flatly refusing to honor requests,” the report states.
These included access to Risk Assessment Unit (RAU) and Criminal Investigation Division (CID) reports, which were withheld according to the Jury.
The Jury said that they ultimately did not subpoena the sheriff’s office nor Wellpath because it would be too “time consuming.” They did not rule out the possibility that the 2019-2020 Grand Jury would revisit these documents.
The Jury also said that the sheriff’s office “seemed more interested in obstructing than working cooperatively with the Jury,” in the conclusion of the report. However, the Jury also noted that “Sheriff may already have identified and addressed the deficiencies we report here,” though they left the door open for more actions by the 2019-2020 Grand Jury.
One important note is that the Grand Jury also found that Wellpath is working without accreditation from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) which is required in the contract between Wellpath and the county. That accreditation expired in July 2017.
“While the Jury understands that the certification process can be lengthy, the lack of accreditation constitutes a continuing violation of the contract and is a matter of real concern. Especially considering that the North Branch Jail is scheduled to open later this year, this issue should be addressed promptly by the Board of Supervisors,” the report states.
The Grand Jury has nine recommendations. Eight are for the Sheriff’s Office and they have 60 days to respond to these recommendations. The Board of Supervisors was given one recommendation, which was to “enforce all of the current provider’s obligations…especially with regard to the continuing failure to obtain National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) accreditation for the Jail.”
Among the recommendations include:
• The sheriff’s office review and improve training on calls involving mental illness, alcohol or drug impairment and questioning witnesses who have information on the subject’s condition.
• Improve training for recognizing self-harming behavior by detainees.
• The sheriff’s office have Wellpath staff adhere to “all policies, procedures, and contractual obligations regarding the assessment of the medical/mental health status of arrestees upon their arrival at the Jail.”
• The sheriff’s office “require custody staff to adhere to its booking policies and procedures, specifically informing themselves as to an arrestee’s prior arrest records at booking.”
• The sheriff’s office has to “either discontinue using Cell C-9 or improve the video equipment there to allow a complete view of the cell.”
• The sheriff’s office require “Wellpath to inspect, repair and replace emergency life-saving equipment on a regular schedule; maintain a service log; and train custody staff regarding the location of lifesaving equipment.”
• And the sheriff’s office “require custody staff to properly handle and preserve evidence connected to incidents occurring at the Jail which later may be needed.”
The Sheriff’s Office responded to the Grand Jury’s report in a statement released by spokeswoman Kelly Hoover.
“The Sheriff’s Office received the Grand Jury’s report and is in the process of carefully reviewing its findings and recommendations. The Sheriff’s Office takes the report seriously and will issue a detailed response well within the time frame requested, including correcting several inaccuracies,” Ms. Hoover said in the statement. She added, “Suicide is a sad reality throughout our society and the jail is not immune to these tragedies. Fortunately, over the years, few inmates have successfully committed suicide in the County Jail.
“To put it in perspective, approximately 17,000 inmates are admitted to the Jail each year, yet since 2001 there have been four in custody deaths as a result of suicide. Our staff has intervened in suicide attempts at the jail and has saved lives. Whether people commit suicide inside or outside of the jail, all of us here at the Sheriff’s Office are deeply saddened by such loss of life.”
The full report is available on the Grand Jury website at http://www.sbcgj.org/2019/SuicideCustody.pdf.