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East County News Service

March 2, 2023 (San Diego) – 46-year-old Lonnie Newton Rupard, a mentally ill homeless man, was found unresponsive in his cell at San Diego Central Jail on March 17, 2022. Sheriff's deputies and medical staff performed lifesaving measures until he was transported to a hospital, where he died.

Today, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's (M.E.) Office released its autopsy report which found the manner of death was homicide. The preliminary cause of death is pneumonia, malnutrition and dehydration related to untreated mental conditions along with COVID-19 viral infection, pulmonary emphysema and duodenal ulcer as contributing factors, though the report also found blunt force injuries to his head, torso and extremities. Though he had schizophrenia and psychosis, he had refused medications while in custody and threatened to kill medical providers who tried to treat him, according to the report.

Paul Parker, Executive Officer of the San Diego County Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, said of the finding, “"Reading the cause of death and the manner of death, it was shocking," ECM news partner 10 News reports. Parker said Rupard's death is why the review board is  pushing to have more jurisdiction over medical service providers in jails.

The death is one in a long string of in-custody deaths in San Diego County jails in recent years that drew scrutiny of legislators and the state auditor, including 19 last year. 

The Sheriff’s department issued a statement which says, “We thank the M.E.'s Office for its thorough report and respect its findings.” The department extends sympathies to Rupard’s family and friends, adding, “We share in your grief for this immense loss. A Sheriff's family liaison is working with Mr. Rupard's family to update them on the investigation and support them as best as we possibly can.”

The Sheriff's Internal Affairs Unit began an investigation in April of last year. Investigators are looking into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Rupard's death to determine any violation of department policy and procedure. The Sheriff's Homicide Unit is also investigating the incident and will submit its findings to the District Attorney's Office for review.

“We will also provide our findings to the U.S. Attorney's Office for review by its Civil Rights Unit regarding any potential violations related to Mr. Rupard's death,” the statement adds.

The statement also describes changes made in hopes of preventing similar situations in the future:

Since this death in March 2022, several changes and advancements have been implemented within the Detention Services Bureau to help identify when a person in custody may need additional medical and mental health care. These changes have helped staff recognize when a vulnerable individual may not be able to advocate for themselves and staff need to intervene on their behalf.

  • Wellness Checks – These checks are comprised of a Multi-Disciplinary Group (MDG) including sworn staff, mental health providers, nurses, correctional counselors and classification deputies. This group conducts one-on-one visits with incarcerated persons deemed most vulnerable. The wellness checks give deputies an additional opportunity to conduct hygiene inspections and allow maintenance staff to address any concerns about the cell or housing unit. The living conditions and hygiene of an individual can be an indicator that they may be in crisis.  Mental health clinicians and nurses assess the individual for any mental health or medical concerns and route them to the appropriate service provider for follow-up and recovery. These checks are done twice a week at George Bailey Detention Facility and San Diego Central Jail. They are conducted once a week at Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility and Vista Detention Facility.
  • Collaborative Care Meetings – Each week, a multi-disciplinary group from each of the facilities meets to discuss individuals in custody who may need additional care and/or may be at risk for harm. Staff members develop a course of action tailored to the individual's needs. These individuals could be those who receive Wellness Checks each week or an incarcerated person who may be behaving in a manner that is indicative of a possible mental health crisis or medical need.
  • Sharing of Critical Information for Continuity of Care – It is common for forensic psychiatrists to provide mental health services or assessments to incarcerated persons within our facilities. For increased collaboration and continuity of care, the Sheriff's Department has required the psychiatrist to provide a briefing to Sheriff's Mental Health Staff prior to leaving the jail.  This enables Sheriff's Staff to provide the appropriate care to an individual immediately, instead of waiting for a written report in two weeks' time.  We are also working to streamline the timely sharing of mental health information and medical records from the California Department of State Hospitals when they transfer people into our custody.
  • Conservatorship – We established a process to request conservatorship of a person in our custody who is unable to care for themselves. Conservatorship allows the court to order medical decisions on behalf of a person who refuses or is not able to take care of themselves.


At the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, we are committed to the safety of the people entrusted in our care. We are resolved in our core values of recognizing the dignity and value of every human life. We have instituted many changes in the last year, as well as initiated several investigations to ensure policies and procedures are being followed. These improvements and transparency in communicating with the public uphold our culture of accountability. We will never shy away from demanding more from ourselves for more targeted reforms that advance the well-being of people in our custody. 


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