An autopsy was performed Thursday on an inmate who died while in police custody at the largest jail operated by the Sheriff’s Department, the George Bailey Detention Center at Otay Mesa.

The man was one of two inmates found in a cell by deputies just before 8am on Wednesday morning. They were both insensitive.

Sheriff’s Homicide Detective Lt. Chris Steffen explained what happened after the two men were found by deputies.

“One of the incarcerated persons was revived by naloxone. … And lifesaving measures continued to be administered to the other incarcerated person, who was Omar Ornelas,” Steffen said.

Ornelas was booked for the first time in the Vista Setup in November 2018, charged with a probation violation. Later that year, Oceanside police charged him with a number of crimes, including murder. He was transferred to George Bailey at the end of last year.

Steffen said Bailey prison medical staff and paramedics did all they could to save the 28-year-old, but were unsuccessful.

“The first thing that comes to mind is, oh no, we’re in deep crisis,” Yusef Miller of the North County Equity & Justice Coalition said Thursday afternoon.

Just the day before, KPBS covered a Miller-led press conference on the steps of the Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego. The subject: deaths in custody in prisons operated by the sheriff’s department.

A recent state audit found that San Diego County jail deaths ranked among the highest in California. And a new report commissioned by the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, which investigates citizens’ complaints against the Sheriff’s Department, found that deaths in county jails are occurring mostly among people who have not yet been condemned.

RELATED: New Report Reveals Details of People Dying in San Diego County Jails

On Thursday, Miller said a number of reforms should take place immediately.

“We want better protocols for medications, rehabilitation, and drug interactions,” he said. “We want better mental health staff, better medical staff.”

Miller said the sheriff’s department is not doing its job to keep drugs out of detention centers.

“They have a responsibility to keep the drugs out of jail, to make sure they’re watching the packages coming in, the people coming in. … So how did they get the drugs?” he said . “It’s a failure in the system.”

But Steffen dismissed criticism from prison staff.

“We are trying to figure out how narcotics get into prisons and doing our best to prevent that from happening, but MPs are doing the best they can,” he said.

Thursday’s autopsy will be an important part of the investigation into the death of another person while being held in a jail operated by the San Diego County Sheriff‘s Department.


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