A view of the entrance to Santa Barbara's South County Jail. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

When 30-year-old Michael Anthony Remijio was checked into the County Jail this past February on a misdemeanor failure-to-appear warrant, there had been no shortage of recent warning signs to indicate he was seriously mentally unstable. In the few short hours Remijio would be housed at County Jail before apparently hanging himself with his own bedsheets, Sheriff’s deputies had issued additional warnings. Remijio was agitated, delusional, and paranoid, they cautioned. But no action was taken by Wellpath, the jail’s contracted private medical care provider. Because of these repeated communication failures, the Santa Barbara Grand Jury would conclude in a recent report, Remijio would die at his own hands 18 hours later. 

Remijio would be the fourth of five suicides to take place at the County Jail since April 2018, the Grand Jury reported. In his case, the warning signs should have been obvious. Two days before his arrest, Sheriff’s deputies had responded to a 9-1-1 call to conduct a welfare check on Remijio for reasons not specified in the report. They left without incident. 

The next day, Remijio called 9-1-1, reporting that armed intruders were swarming his backyard. He was detoxing from meth, he told deputies at the time. They described him as frantic, stuttering, fidgety, and sweaty. Because of an outstanding warrant in Ventura County for failure to appear on DUI charges, Remijio was taken into custody and booked into County Jail. 

The arresting officer was struck by the delusional nature of Remijio’s conversation on the drive to the jail — the deputy thought an ambulance ride would have been warranted, but Remijio refused. The deputy insisted he notified Wellpath’s RN conducting inmate intake screening of Remijio’s state, suggesting that he was hallucinating. Just as adamantly, the RN has insisted the deputy never conveyed this information.

Deputies who interviewed Remijio that night shortly after he’d been screened and admitted described him as “uncommunicative and paranoid.” In one of the interviews, Remijio acknowledged having had suicidal ideation but said he was not having any then. Accordingly, he was placed in an isolation cell for which security checks were to occur every 30 minutes.

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Although Wellpath has a staff psychiatrist on call, none was ever contacted. Likewise, the company had no professional mental-health workers on site per its contract with the county, which does not require such staffing between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

By 4 a.m., a custody deputy had filled out a written form noting that Remijio had exhibited “signs of psychosis.” The form was addressed to the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) scheduled to show up at 7 a.m. The note described Remijio as being disheveled, agitated, loud, angry, irritable, and a little delusional. No mention of suicide was made. The note recommended that follow-up mental health attention be provided “as needed.” No additional mental-health care was provided as a result, the Grand Jury reported.

At 2:30 p.m. — five hours later — Remijio’s body was found after he had apparently killed himself using a bedsheet fashioned into what law enforcement press releases describe as a “ligature.” The custody deputy on call reported that sight lines to Remijio’s cell were blocked by the staircase. He could see only portions of Remijio’s cell; he could not see Remijio at all. Remijio had called three times at night via the jail’s intercom system, but the audio quality was reportedly poor and garbled. 

The grand jury would conclude that multiple communication failures lead to the inmate’s death. It also noted that nationally, 41 percent of all county inmates have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness. In Santa Barbara County, 60 percent had been clients of the County’s Department of Behavioral Wellness. 

The report noted that many reforms have been put into effect since Remijio’s death that would ameliorate some of the problems. The new North County Jail, for example, will set aside 32 beds for inmates experiencing serious mental-health challenges. The county would need to amend its contract with Wellpath — the current contract expires next April — to require round-the-clock mental-health professionals on site. 

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text TALK to 741741.



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