‘The community demands answers’: Man dies after arrest at Santa Rita Jail

photo of santa rita jail
Lisi Ludwig/File
Following being taken into custody at Santa Rita Jail, Jose Piña Cardenas was pronounced dead at ValleyCare Medical Center on June 7.

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Jose Piña Cardenas, 30, was pronounced dead June 7, only three weeks after being taken into custody at Santa Rita County Jail.

According to a press release from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Piña Cardenas was arrested May 17 on suspicion of allegedly violating his parole and was taken into custody. The press release added that later that day, sheriff’s deputies allegedly found Piña Cardenas bleeding from his mouth, and he was then transferred to ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton, where he was pronounced dead June 7.

After obtaining public records, the Ella Baker Center allegedly found that several jail deputies used physical force and restraint against Piña Cardenas hours prior to his medical emergency, according to the press release.

“Lydia Piña, his mother, was never informed of her son’s critical condition until a family friend attempted to visit Mr. Piña at the jail,” the press release reads.

According to Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Tya Modeste, Piña Cardenas suffered a “mental health emergency” during the booking process on May 17. Modeste added that the parole hold was dropped May 23 and Piña Cardenas was officially released from custody.

Modeste said in an email that Piña Cardenas was released from custody nearly three weeks before his death, so his death is not being investigated as an “in custody death.”

Jose Bernal, organizing director at the Ella Baker Center, said in an email that he disagrees and believes the death was an in-custody death.

According to Bernal, the death should be investigated as an in custody death because of the alleged use of force by deputies.

“This is an in-custody death and the family as well as the community demands answers, full transparency and accountability,” Bernal alleged in an email.

Bernal said in the email that the sheriff’s office supervises autopsies and called on Alameda County to vote for a separate coroner’s office.

According to the press release, Piña Cardenas’ family was allegedly not notified that he had been hospitalized and did not know until nine days after the initial medical emergency. The release also alleged that Piña Cardenas’ family has not yet been given any information on the events leading up to his death.

In the press release, Piña Cardenas’ mother asked for “answers” and “full accountability.”

“My son is yet another victim of Santa Rita Jail,” Lydia Piña alleged in the press release. “We need justice so that those who are incarcerated don’t end up dead.” 

According to Bernal’s allegations, Piña Cardenas’ death would mark the 59th in-custody death at Santa Rita Jail since 2014.

Bernal alleged these deaths are a result of a “failed county approach” that has been focused on expanding the jail population, rather than prioritizing mental health services, housing and access to living-wage jobs.

Modeste maintained that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office takes the safety of everyone in custody seriously.

During the booking process, incarcerated persons are subjected to a medical screening to help identify pre-existing or perceived physical and mental health concerns,” Modeste said in the email. “The health and safety of everyone in our custody is a priority which we do not take lightly.”

Contact Anna Armstrong at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @annavarmstrongg.