Santa Clara County Sheriff Fired Deputy For Lying About Beating Death of Inmate

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Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith fired three deputies after they were convicted of second-degree murder for beating inmate Michael Tyree to death in 2015. The sheriff also fired a fourth deputy, Pablo Tempra, for lying about the incident, records released Sept. 27 show. (Beth Willon/KQED)

A Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy was fired for repeatedly lying about the 2015 beating death of a mentally ill inmate at the hands of three other jail guards, newly released records on the high-profile case show.

The three guards were convicted in 2017 of second-degree murder of inmate Michael Tyree, which has been widely reported. They were sentenced to 15-years-to-life in state prison.

The records include an independent investigation commissioned by the county weeks after the 2015 death.

Tempra was on duty during the night of the second-degree murder. The independent investigator found that even though he knew about the use of force, Tempra only revealed it the fourth time he was questioned.

“Your conduct has cast considerable doubt on your integrity and character,” said a firing decision sent to Tempra in May of 2016. “You have tarnished your reputation and violated the public trust. You have dishonored the Sheriff’s Office, your fellow Correctional Deputies and Officers, and our profession.”

The firing decision and independent investigation were released on Friday by the Sheriff’s Office under a police transparency law that took effect in 2019.

Santa Clara County hired the law firm Renne, Sloan, Holtzman, Sakai, LLP to investigate any misconduct in the Aug. 26, 2015 beating that killed inmate Tyree.

Former deputies Rafael Rodriguez, Matthew Farris and Jereh Lubrin were arrested and charged within a week of Tyree’s death.

The report from the independent investigation, which was dated Jan 7, 2016, concluded that the three deputies violated department and county policies in their use of force against Tyree and Juan Villa, another inmate beaten in the same unit earlier that night.

The report references autopsy findings that Tyree’s spleen and liver were “severed” resulting from blunt force trauma, the injury that killed him.

One inmate reported seeing deputies do “fist pounds” after they finished searching the cells, according to the independent investigation. Tempra also reported seeing Farris and Rodriguez “knuckle bump” as they left the module, as Tyree lay dying in his cell.

The investigation, however, also found that Tempra, who controlled the doors to access Tyree’s housing unit, failed to document that Lubrin told him he had used force and also failed to report it to a supervisor. None of the three deputies officially reported using force that night.

Attempts to reach Tempra Friday evening for comment were unsuccessful. The Sheriff’s Office did not comment beyond the release of investigative reports.

The sheriff’s criminal investigation found that Tyree could be heard screaming for several minutes “and was accompanied by the sounds of thumping, wall banging and what sounded like blows to a person’s body.”

Tempra claimed he didn’t hear any noise coming from inmates in the unit during the time of the beating and death. The report said Tempera’s claim was “not credible based on the evidence.”

Lubrin came back for a cell check and discovered Tyree unresponsive after midnight. He was declared dead early on Aug. 27, 2015.

The independent report includes interviews with some of the deputies' colleagues, including Deputy Koret Shettleworth, who attended the sheriff’s academy with Rodriquez and Farris.

Shettleworth told investigators about what he called a training technique, “in which a training officer would not let a trainee off of probation until the trainee had a physical altercation with an inmate.”

“There was a level of inmate abuse that was deemed acceptable” at the Main Jail, Shettleworth said, according to the reports.

The Sheriff’s Office has revised its use-of-force policy and updated training since Tyree’s death.

The attorney representing Tyree’s family and Villa has faulted the county for “the systemic failure of criminalizing mental illness” and failing to provide treatment.

“Juan and Michael should have been on a psychiatric unit not ‘protective custody,’” said the attorney Paula Canny.

This story was produced as part of the California Reporting Project, a collaboration of 40 newsrooms across the state to obtain and report on police misconduct and serious use-of-force records unsealed in 2019.

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