Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Death of Santa Barbara County Jail inmate following struggle with deputies ruled accidental

The Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office has ruled the death of a jail inmate accidental.
Tim Hüfner
The Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office has ruled the death of a jail inmate was accidental.

Coroner said combination of things including obesity and methamphetamine in man's system contributed to 45-year-old man's fatal cardiac-related death.

An investigation by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office says there was no wrongdoing by sheriff’s deputies in the death of a county jail inmate.

Johnathan Paul Thomas died January 12 in custody at the main Santa Barbara County Jail. The 45-year-old man had been arrested on domestic violence charges by Santa Maria Police. After being medically cleared at a hospital, he was taken to jail.

Deputies say Thomas admitted he was suicidal. They put him in a safety cell, but say the 300 pound man didn’t cooperate. When he refused to remove his clothing as a safety measure, four deputies did it forcibly as he struggled.

They then left him in the cell and watched him. Six minutes later, he stopped moving. They started CPR, but he was pronounced dead. An autopsy showed he died of a cardiac event linked to obesity, heart issues, methamphetamine, as well as active resistance and restraint. The coroner ruled the death to be accidental.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.