Orange County prosecutors Friday released a report concluding that the death of a 37-year-old man with schizophrenia in Orange County Jail was caused by a fentanyl overdose and his jailers were not criminally culpable in the death.
The May 23, 2019, death of Anthony Aceves has drawn criticism and protests from Orange County activists. The letter to Sheriff Don Barnes was dated April 10, but was released at the end of the business day on Friday.
Aceves’ mother, Diana Alvarez, filed a federal lawsuit against the county on Halloween. The lawsuit alleges wrongful death and negligence.
Aceves, who was in custody at the Theo Lacy Jail, “had a documented medical history of severe mental health issues,” according to the lawsuit.
During the inmate’s six weeks in the jail, he “exhibited obvious signs and symptoms of severe mental health issues,” the lawsuit alleged.
The family alleged the county jail staff “remained deliberately indifferent” to Aceves’ “basic life needs.”
Aceves was arrested on a probation violation on April 22, 2019.
During his booking it was documented he was diagnosed as schizoaffective and was prescribed three medications, but “admitted being non-compliant with treatment since he was last released from custody on Feb. 20, 2019,” according to a letter from Deputy District Attorney Robbie Goodkin, who prepared the report to Barnes.
Aceves “admitted daily use of methamphetamine and tetrahydrocannabino (THC) while out of custody,” Goodkin wrote.
The inmate also told booking staff that he tried to kill himself eight times, Goodkin said.
“The last time was by overdose a couple of weeks prior to his arrest,” Goodkin said. “He had previously attempted suicide by jumping off a pier and by eating heroin.”
Aceves also said he had plans to slash his wrists, the prosecutor wrote.
Aceves was placed in protective custody, but then was released into “regular housing” two days later, Goodkin wrote.
Aceves signed a “release of liability” letter when he refused to take his medication on May 18, 2019, Goodkin wrote.
However, Aceves appeared to take his medication on May 22, 2019. Later, another inmate “appeared to pass something under” the cell door where Aceves was housed with another inmate, Goodkin wrote.
Aceves’ cell mate said he “rarely slept” and would “talk to himself and laugh out loud all night,” Goodkin wrote. Hiowever, on the night of May 22, 2019, he “went to sleep and snored loudly,” his cell mate said, according to Goodkin.
During an inmate count just before 5 a.m., May 23, 2019, deputies found Aceves unresponsive, Goodkin said. Four inmates said the objects passed under the doors of various other inmates the night before were “cookies,” Goodkin said.
Another inmate said he did not know “if Aceves overdosed or committed suicide,” Goodkin wrote.
A pathologist concluded Aceves died of acute fentanyl intoxication and that it was an accident, Goodkin wrote.
Attorney Humberto Guizar, who represents Aceves’ mother in the lawsuit, said sheriff’s deputies knew of Aceves’ mental health and “acted with deliberate indifference to a known medical condition.”
Guizar said sheriff’s deputies “in an indirect way caused his death.”
The deputies had a duty “to keep him safe,” but released him from protective custody into general population, Guizar said.
Guizar also criticized prosecutors for listing Aceves’ criminal history in the report.
“What is the necessity of that?” Guizar asked. “To put that in there is meant to dehumanize him, to make it appear he got what he deserved. Putting that in there, I think, is deliberate.
“It’s unconscionable, and, unfortunately, shows the flippant attitude the District Attorney’s Office has to condone the bad conduct in the Orange County system.”
A message left with the District Attorney’s Office was not immediately returned.
A sheriff’s spokeswoman declined comment.
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