Three Santa Clara County Sheriff's correctional deputies were arrested Thursday, on charges of murder, assault and conspiracy in connection with the beating death of a mentally ill inmate last week.
Michael Tyree, 31, was found naked and covered in feces and vomit in his cell at the Santa Clara County Main Jail on August 26. He was pronounced dead on the scene after several unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him. The medical examiner ruled Tyree's death a homicide with the cause of death being internal bleeding due to blunt force trauma.
At a press conference Thursday, Sheriff Laurie Smith said that the investigation into his death concluded that jail deputies Jereh Lubrin, Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriguez, were "the reason for this brutal murder."
"This disappointment and disgust I feel cannot be overstated," Smith said in her statement.
After their arrest Thursday morning, the three suspects asked for their lawyers while declining to give statements to detectives by invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. They are on unpaid administrative leave, Smith said.
The deputies were arrested on charges of murder, assault under the color of authority and conspiracy and were transferred to a jail outside Santa Clara County.
Smith said that it was "unmistakable" that the three deputies "committed this cowardly and heinous act against an unarmed individual they were entrusted to protect." She said the investigation was ongoing.
Tyree was in custody at the Santa Clara County Main Jail for misdemeanor, theft and drug possession charges. He was placed in a single person cell in wing 6B which is reserved for inmates in protective custody or those with special needs, according to Smith.
Tyree struggled for many years with mental illness, Paula Canny, the family's attorney said at the press conference.
On the evening of August 26, the three deputies were in wing 6B during a routine search in inmates' cells. They were the only three individuals in the wing at that point, Smith said. The next day, Lubrin entered 6B to conduct a routine welfare check on the inmates, when he issued a "man down" call. According to Lubrin's incident report he discovered Tyree's body on the floor of his cell, naked and covered in feces and vomit.
Rodriguez entered the cell and allegedly assisted Lubrin in dragging Tyree's body out of the cell and administering CPR on him. Shortly after, numerous staff members joined the two deputies in trying to revive Tyree but EMS staff declared him dead on the scene minutes later.
The medical examiner concluded that Tyree died due to internal bleeding because of multiple blunt force injuries including lacerations, contusions and abrasions as well as internal lacerations of his liver and spleen. Tyree's fatal injuries were inflicted by another, the examiner said.
Smith said that she believed they had sufficient probable cause to arrest the three deputies for Tyree's murder. "It pains me and every member of the Sheriff's Office because those who are sworn to protect and serve lose their moral compass and commit criminal acts," she said.
The three deputies were provided "with no special treatment" and their arrests followed protocols of "any other arrest of an accused felon" Smith said.
The sheriff also expressed her apologies to Tyree's three sisters who recently lost their mother and whose father died last year.
She said that even though Tyree was an inmate, he was also "someone's brother, someone's son and his life had value."
Canny, the family's attorney, said that Tyree was in custody due to alleged acts that occurred as a result of his mental illness. She said she was grateful to the Sheriff's Office for bringing those accountable for Tyree's death to swift justice but criticized the system's treatment of the mentally ill.
She expressed hope that the District Attorney's office would follow the sheriff's lead in bringing the deputies to justice.