In-custody deaths proceed to rise nationwide

TUCSON (KVOA) – There have been six deaths in the Pima County Jail since January. However, the causes are different.

According to official figures, six deaths have been recorded in eight months.

A former prison commanding officer told News 4 Tucson that this was a problem not just in Pima County but across the country. In Pima County, Sheriff Nanos stated that each case must be considered individually.

“Some of the deaths in prison were preventable in my opinion. Some were not,” said Sheriff Nanos.

Prison officials said on January 18 that Jesus Aguilar Figeroa had been arrested for, among other things, child and sexual abuse. Reports later said Figeroa had died of COVID-19.

Three days later, on January 21, Norberto Medican Beltran was arrested for inter alia child abuse and worsening of DUI. He also died of COVID-19.

On May 31, Justin Crook, injured for parole violation, died of a drug overdose 24 hours after being booked.

Jack Dixon died of suicide on June 4th. He faced three criminal charges.

On July 21, Weldon Ellis, who had been charged with identity theft, died of natural causes.

Patino Cruz, who did not appear in court and was charged with burglary, also died of natural causes on August 3.

The number of deaths in custody over the past four years is listed as follows:

  • 2017 – Six
  • 2018 – nine
  • 2019 – five
  • 2020 – eight

So far this year there have been six deaths within four months of the year.

Sean Stewart worked in the Pima County Jail for nearly 30 years. He retired six months ago and is now traveling through the state advisory service.

“I am frequently arrested for deaths, whether it be suicide, natural causes, or drug overdose,” Stewart said.

When asked why he thinks there has been an increase in deaths across the country, Stewart said that “it’s a national trend”.

“I think people are being booked much less healthily than they used to be,” he added.

Stewart also said overdose deaths are a problem.

“I don’t know if that’s because of the strength of the drugs they’re using on the street or what’s going on,” he said. “But I don’t think this is just without a doubt in the Pima County Jail. I think this is a national issue, it is a national crisis.”

Sherriff Nanos said it was a crisis that needs to be addressed and believes that one death in custody is one too many.

Officials are working with psychiatric and medical providers, as well as prosecutors, to address this issue.

Comments are closed.