SAN DIEGO — People with loved ones who died while in custody at San Diego County jails came together to demand an audience and answers from Sheriff Kelly Martinez.
Those families met at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Headquarters in Kearny Mesa saying they are a unit - or a reform group - and they want to come to Sheriff Martinez as a group because they've been supporting each other through their individual loved one’s death in custody.
Sheriff Martinez says that kind of discussion should be done one on one with each individual family.
Inmate in-custody deaths have been a continued problem plaguing San Diego County jails. Since 2018, the county has paid out more than $20.2 million in jail and in-custody death and injury lawsuits. That does not include last month, for which county taxpayers paid $140,000 for in-custody jail complaints.
“My brother would still be alive if the sheriffs had done their job properly,” exclaimed Sabrina Weddle. “Kelly Martinez still won’t meet with us,” Weddle concluded.
Weddle’s brother, Saxon Rodriguez died in San Diego Central Jail from an overdose in July 2021. CBS 8 first met Sabrina at another protest surrounding jail deaths a little more than six months ago.
Sabrina and Sundee - Saxon’s mom – both said he should have never had access to fentanyl behind bars.
“Officers working on the 4th floor got to go home and tuck their kids into bed and I was planning a funeral for my boy who just had a birthday,” said Sundee fighting through tears.
Speaking of her son, Saxon, Sundee shared, “He had a really bright and positive outlook on life. He loved being out and about. Nobody could say anything bad about Saxon.”
Dave Myers, a former local sheriff’s deputy joined Yusef Miller with The North County Equity and Justice Coalition and the impacted families at the gathering.
Miller says Sheriff Martinez has denied their requests to meet with families and discuss reforms.
Meanwhile, Myers blasted Martinez for what he said were hollow election promises. “We are seeing here in San Diego County someone who lied to get elected," said Myers. "Kelly Martinez promised to release that information at least to the family members. They deserve and they have a right to know what happened to their loved ones.”
In a statement to CBS8 News, the sheriff's department says of the calls to meet with Sheriff Martinez, "In sincerest consideration and respect for their loss, the Sheriff would like to meet with the families individually. An intimate and compassionate setting will provide the bereaved with information, as well as enough time to answer their questions and listen to their feedback regarding jail operations.”
These family members say that's not enough.
Leslie Crawford is Raymond Vogelman’s mother. Vogelman died in the custody of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department at the George Bailey Detention Facility in October 2022. Leslie shared, “If I had known how she was going to act, I wouldn’t have voted for her.”
Yusef Miller with the North County Justice Coalition concluded the gathering by saying, “You’ve all heard these families all suggesting things. We’re not just out here barking in the wind. We’re suggesting things that will prevent other fathers, other sisters, other mothers from going through the same thing.”
The San Diego Sheriff's Department also shared with us their initial response to the group’s request for a meeting. It said in part “When Mr. Miller requested a large group meeting with Sheriff Martinez, we provided him a response on January 17 which is italicized below:
Sheriff Martinez understands your strong personal interest in this matter and appreciates that you would like to facilitate a meeting between her and the families of those who have died in custody. She established a protocol last year where a liaison from the Sheriff's Department is assigned in each of these cases. That protocol was established as a compassionate response to a grieving family who is looking for answers. These liaisons are specially trained to help family members understand what happened in the case of their loved one and to guide them through the sometimes-confusing justice system. Each of the families that you have listed have an assigned liaison who has contacted them. Sheriff Martinez has contacted the Serna family herself. Thus far, these families have not returned phone calls and we continue to document each of our attempts to speak with them.”