A vigil is scheduled tonight for Raymond Herrera, the 52-year-old inmate from Lompoc who died last month in County Jail. On his seventh day in jail waiting for a pretrial hearing, Herrera collapsed in his cell and became unresponsive. Critics of medical services provided by the jail contend Herrera had not been given prescribed medication during his last seven days.
Herrera’s family retained attorney Ryan Harris to look into what they believe is a suspicious case. Harris offered few details about the case. He said, “[This] just can’t happen in 2015 in any part of our society.”
According to his obituary, Herrera was well liked and remembered for his laugh and sense of humor. He was a Lompoc High graduate who worked in commercial and residential painting, according to his friends and family. They said he was a nonviolent offender, in custody because he could not afford to post bail. Sheriff’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover said Herrera was in jail for two warrants on probation violations of being under the influence of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, and driving with a suspended license.
Herrera was lying on the top bunk in his cell when his legs started flailing, and he told his cellmate he could not breathe, according to the Coroner’s Report. His cellmate called for help, the report states, and Herrera got off the bed, landing on his feet. Sweating profusely and with labored breathing, Herrera urinated and defecated on the floor. He apologized to his cellmate, the report states. His cellmate called a “man down” at about the same time that Herrera walked to the bathroom, leaned against the rail in front of the sinks, and said he couldn’t breathe and that his heart was “racing.” Herrera then collapsed forward, striking his mouth against the rail, according to the report, and appeared to be having a seizure.
Once the deputies arrived, his cellmate told investigators, Herrera began resisting deputies who were assisting him. The deputies then put handcuffs on him and transported him to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, the report states. Medical staff performed life-saving measures to no avail. He was pronounced dead shortly after.
The report states Herrera’s cause of death was due to internal bleeding from a ruptured spleen due to cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis C. At the time of his booking on June 6, Hoover said, Herrera denied he was taking medication, but it was later determined he was prescribed high blood pressure medication, and steps were taken to get him those meds. His death, Hoover noted, was not related to high blood pressure. The report classified his death as “natural.”
Herrera’s is the fifth inmate death in the County Jail since 2011. In April, inmate Matthew Wilbur, who was 59, was found unresponsive and not breathing in his single occupancy cell, according to the Sheriff’s Office. At the jail, he was pronounced dead after jail medical staff immediately rendered emergency aid, according to the office.
The news comes at a time of heightened public concern about the medical treatment detainees receive in custody. Last month, the supervisors opted not to renew a two-year, $10 million contract with Corizon Health, Inc., after Corizon employees and the Sheriff’s Office could not provide any data about the for-profit company’s performance. Tennessee-based Corizon services more than 345,000 inmates in 27 states and has come under fire in several places for quality issues. Earlier this year, Corizon and Alameda County agreed to pay $8.3 million as part of a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of an inmate in 2011 after he was allegedly beaten by guards.
Sheriff’s Chief Laz Salinas, who retired last week, told the supervisors last month that the Sheriff’s Office meets regularly with Corizon employees, and that the nurses and doctor are meeting the metrics to their satisfaction. Exactly what those metrics are remains unclear. The Sheriff’s Office is scheduled to return to the Board of Supervisors on August 25 to present a performance evaluation of Corizon before the supes decide whether or not to renew their contract.
The vigil will take place on July 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the County Jail.
Kelsey Knorp contributed to this report.