An investigation by ProPublica released Tuesday shows that Riverside County, California, jail staff did not address Phillip Garcia’s medical and mental health needs, resulting in his death.
ProPublica said it learned that staff used violent force against Garcia and falsified reports after watching 17 hours of surveillance video and obtaining official documents. Garcia was taken into custody on March 22, 2017, after he allegedly smashed a neighbors window and made “irrational” threats to officers, medics, and neighbors. (RELATED: ‘Leave No Rock Unturned’: FBI And Department Of Justice Will Review Death Of Robert Fuller)
Christopher DeSalva, a family friend, told ProPublica that Garcia had a history of seizures, mental illness, and inconsistent treatment. After the arrest, Garcia was placed in an isolated cell in Riverside County jail and can be seen in video acting erratically.
Garcia begins to damage the cell, to which deputies respond with a series of weapons such as a stinger grenade and a riot shield to subdue him, per ProPublica. “Due to Garcia refusing to comply with commands,” Deputy Nigel Hinson said, “I punched him five to six times on the right side of his face and back.” Other officers also beat Garcia and shot him in the abdomen with a taser.
Garcia was restrained while he waited for 12 hours to get a hospital bed at the Riverside University Health System Medical Center, according to ProPublica. When a bed was available, eight Riverside County sheriff’s deputies in helmets and body armor transferred Garcia to the bed, one of them pressing a riot shield into Garcia’s face causing him to bleed.
“Somebody’s gotta help me,” Garcia said while under the shield, according to ProPublica, “Please, man.” A few hours later Garcia had died.
ProPublica reported that the emergency room had diagnosed Garcia with rhabdomyolysis, a fatal condition that can be caused by overexertion. The autopsy and jail records obtained by ProPublica state that Garcia had been destroying his muscle tissue while struggling against the restraints, which placed toxins into his bloodstream.
“The psychological crisis combined with the restraints led to the fatal condition,” said ProPublica reporter Ryan Grabrielson to CBS News, “The sheriff’s department saw him only as someone who wouldn’t follow orders and that had to be punished.”
A statement on March 24, 2017, from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, obtained by ProPublica, said “a 51-year-old male housed in the secured detention unit at the Riverside University Health System experienced a medical emergency.” The statement continued to say medical staff tried to save his life but were unsuccessful. “At this time, no foul play is suspected,” read the statement, per ProPublica.
The official cause of death on the autopsy signed by Sheriff Stan Sniff nearly 10 months after Garcia’s death listed the cause as “sudden death in schizophrenia” combined with “rhabdomyolysis in association with physical exertion by subject and application of control methods.”
Garcia’s family did file a lawsuit for wrongful death in federal court against Riverside County in 2018, per ProPublica. The county denied the allegations and admitted no wrongdoing, but it settled the lawsuit in June of 2019 and paid Garcia’s family $975,000.
The Daily Caller reached out to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and left a message pending reply.