Three correctional officers at the Santa Clara County Jail are facing murder charges in the wake of what Sheriff Laurie Smith called the "vile and cowardly" fatal beating of a mentally ill inmate.
The three officers -- Matthew Farris, Jereh Lubrin and Rafael Rodriguez -- are being held in protective custody at a jail outside Santa Clara County and face arraignment next week for their alleged role in the killing of inmate Michael James Tyree last week.
Each is being held on suspicion of murder, assault under color of authority and conspiracy, Smith said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
Smith did not take questions or discuss specific evidence that the three guards were responsible for the 31-year-old Tyree's death. But, she said, "It's unmistakable that Jereh Lubrin, Matthew Ferriss and Rafael Rodriguez committed this cowardly and heinous act against an unarmed individual they were entrusted to protect."
Here's how the San Jose Mercury News summarized Tyree's death Thursday:
Tyree, a 31-year-old man in protective custody died Aug. 27 while waiting to be transferred to a mental-health facility, three days after he appeared in a special mental-health court where he pleaded no contest to petty theft....
... At the time of his death, Tyree was being housed on the sixth floor, in the protective custody unit. Several inmates who were also housed there reported seeing the three correctional officers go into his cell and then hearing him scream, "Don't!" "Please, stop!" "Help!" and "I'm sorry!" before falling silent after the officers left, according to a relative of one of the inmates.
Tyree apparently suffered serious internal injuries consistent with being hit with a firm object, which could have been a fist, foot or weapon, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation. The source added that said the officers did not report their use of force to jail authorities immediately, as required, or seek medical care for him.
Sheriff Smith said that Lubrin, one of the three guards alleged to have taken part in the attack, made a routine welfare check of the unit where Tyree was held about an hour later. He radioed a "man down" call, the sheriff said, reporting he had found Tyree unconscious in his cell, naked and covered with vomit and feces. Attempts to resuscitate Tyree failed and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
County Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph O'Hara told the press conference an autopsy found that Tyree had died of massive internal bleeding resulting from blunt-force trauma.
"In short, he bled to death internally," O'Hara said.
In a story on the guards, the Merc said family members, including Lubrin's father, expressed disbelief at the charges:
Dwight Lubrin said his son ... told him that "something had happened with an inmate" at work during his shift.
According to the father, Lubrin said that when he checked on Tyree the inmate's wall was covered in feces and Tyree was lying down and could not be roused. When Lubrin realized something was wrong, his father said, he and the other two officers on duty started giving Tyree CPR.
He told his son: "If you didn't do anything wrong, you don't have to worry about it."
Paula Canny, the attorney for Tyree's family, praised the sheriff's office for acting quickly. "The family is so grateful for the efforts to bring justice swiftly to those that caused Michael’s death," she said after Smith's statement.
Robert Weisberg, a Stanford Law School professor specializing in criminal justice, said the prompt action by the sheriff's office and the arrests themselves were "extremely unusual."
"It's remarkable for jail officers to be arrested for homicide and especially for murder is pretty much unheard of," Weisberg told KQED's Devin Katayama. Here's the rest of their interview: