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Family Mourns, Presses for Answers on Santa Barbara County Jail Inmate Death

Raymond Herrera, 52, collapsed in his cell June 15 and was later declared dead at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital

Family and supporters of Raymond Herrera, who died last month while in custody in the Santa Barbara County Jail, stand outside the jail and observe a moment of silence at a vigil Wednesday night.
Family and supporters of Raymond Herrera, who died last month while in custody in the Santa Barbara County Jail, stand outside the jail and observe a moment of silence at a vigil Wednesday night. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The family of a man who died while in custody at the Santa Barbara County Jail last month is mourning their loss and asking for answers from the Sheriff's Department and the private health-care company that is contracted for inmate care inside the jail.

Raymond Herrera, 52, died June 15, one week after being booked into the County Jail on probation violation warrants.

Herrera's family alleges that he had asked for medicine needed to manage his high blood pressure, and that his requests went unanswered.

On Wednesday night, members of his family and other community members met outside the jail to remember Herrera with signs and lit candles, and to draw attention to what they say is substandard medical care for inmates.

Herrera's family recalled him as being a "good man" who was the life of the party, loved his daughter and had a soft spot for dogs.

They also expressed fear that more deaths could happen if things didn't change in the jail, and urged staff to take medical requests from inmates seriously.

"If they had given him what he needed, he would be here with us today," said John Campos, Herrera's brother. "All we want to do is see justice."

A coroner's report obtained from the Sheriff's Department states that Herrera died of natural causes, specifically from internal bleeding after his spleen ruptured, most likely as a result of a cirrhotic liver.

The coroner's staff classified his death as natural.

Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said Herrera had been booked June 6 on two violations of probation warrants, one for misdemeanor drug charges and for driving on a suspended or revoked license.  

He had a court appearance June 8 and his arraignment was scheduled for June 16, she said.

According to the coroner's report, when he was booked into the jail, Herrera was asked whether he was on any medications or under the care of a physician, to which Herrera responded no, but told staff he had high blood pressure and hepatitis C.

The report stated that on June 15, Herrera began convulsing and complaining of chest pain while in his jail cell. 

He collapsed, and when deputies responded, Herrera appeared to be having a seizure and was unresponsive prior to being transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after ambulance staff and medical staff at the hospital began lifesaving measures, according to the report. 

The report documented testimony from friends and family that stated Herrera "had struggled with heroin abuse and recently overdosed approximately one month to being incarcerated at the Santa Barbara County Jail."

Records from two different hospitals and the jail indicated that he had been diagnosed with hypertension and hepatitis C, among other conditions.

A toxicology screening of Herrera's blood showed that there were no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of his death.

Herrera's sister, Gloria Niño, was at the vigil Wednesday night and maintains that Herrera repeatedly asked for his medications throughout his stay in the jail, but was not given them.

She said that when Herrera was arrested, he had them on his person, so jail staff would have seen that he was on blood pressure medicine.

"I'm just missing him terribly," she told the crowd tearfully. "This just shouldn't have happened."

Hoover said the coroner's findings — that Herrera's cause of death was due to internal bleeding — were not related to high blood pressure.

"It should be noted that upon booking on June 6, Mr. Herrera denied he was taking any medication," she said. "Later it was determined he had previously been prescribed medication for high blood pressure and steps were made to follow up and get him the medication."

The jail contracts with for-profit company Corizon Correctional Healthcare, formerly Prison Health Services, for medical, dental and psychiatric services for inmates.

At the vigil for Herrera, people said the company does not treat inmates with a high level of care.

Municipalities around the country have contracted with Corizon for health care. Among them was the Rikers Island Jail Complex in New York, which dropped the company last month, opting out of paying for services in favor of local control.

Speaker Kathy Swift called Corizon "notorious," and mentioned an $8.3 million lawsuit that Corizon settled along with Alameda County supervisors after an inmate in that county was improperly screened during intake and died after being beaten by deputies.

"These men have constitutional rights and we need to remember that," Swift said, adding that many people in the jail are awaiting trial and have not yet been convicted of a crime.

Unable to afford to post bail, Herrera was seven days into a 10-day stay in jail when his death occurred.

The Rev. David Moore referenced a decision in New York that would allow nonviolent, low-level offenders to go free until trial without having to post bail.

Moore wondered if a similar approach locally would have helped Herrera.

Suzanne Riordan of Families ACT!, an advocacy group that supports people with mental-health and substance-abuse issues, encouraged people to speak up to lawmakers about Corizon.

Last month, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors did not automatically renew Corizon's $10 million contract for another two years, saying it needed more information proving the company is meeting its goals for care.

County leaders will hear from company representatives in August and make a decision on the contract. 

Riordan urged the group to show up and speak up about Corizon at the next board meeting on July 21.

"It is not a trustworthy corporation," she said. "We have seen the pattern. … Their bottom line is profit."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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