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Santa Barbara County Grand Jury calls for changes in investigations of in-custody inmate deaths

Photo by Tim Hufner/Unsplash

Report says while they aren't suggesting there is a problem, doing investigations internally creates a potential perceived conflict of interest.

A new Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report is calling for a change in the way investigations of jail inmate deaths are handled, because of a potential perceived conflict of interest.

Santa Barbara County has a combined Sheriff’s/Coroner’s Office. Some counties have separate offices. And, some counties use independent criminal investigators and medical examination teams. 

The Grand Jury report doesn’t suggest there’s been wrongdoing. But, it says doing the investigations internally creates the potential appearance of a conflict of interest, which could open the door to lawsuits.

Ventura County has a separate Medical Examiner’s Office. San Luis Obispo County outsources its pathology work to a San Diego company.

The Grand Jury is recommending that the county look at outsourcing the cases, noting that the additional costs would be minimal.

The report shows that Santa Barbara County had 24 in-custody deaths from 2006-2020, as compared to 20 in San Luis Obispo County, and 47 in Ventura County. Santa Barbara County has had 10 in-custody deaths since 2020, with one in San Luis Obispo County, and seven in Ventura County.

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.