The county Medical Examiner’s Office determined that while Lonnie Rupard was given meals, water and offered medication, his death was preceded by “ineffective delivery” of care in jail.
SAN DIEGO —
A small demonstration was held in front of the downtown Central Jail Saturday morning to protest the death of Lonnie Rupard.
Rupard died in the jail on March 17, 2022, three months after being booked on a parole violation. In a report released last week by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, the medical examiner made the rare determination that Rupard’s death was a homicide.
The 46-year-old, who the report said was diagnosed with schizophrenia “and other psychotic disorders,” was malnourished and dehydrated and was suffering from pneumonia linked to COVID-19.
“While elements of self-neglect were present,” Deputy Medical Examiner Bethann Schaber wrote, “ultimately this decedent was dependent upon others for his care; therefore, the manner of death is classified as homicide.”
Rupard was one of 19 people who died in a San Diego jail last year, a record-high number of deaths for the Sheriff’s Department. A 20th person was released from custody while hospitalized and died a short time later.
For years, the Sheriff’s Department has struggled to address preventable deaths in its jails. A state audit released last year found that San Diego County had the highest jail mortality rate among large California counties and urged state lawmakers to intervene.
According to his autopsy report, Rupard lost 60 pounds in the three months he was incarcerated. The 5-foot-9-inch man weighed only 105 pounds at the time of his death, the report said.
The report also said that shortly before his death, a court-appointed psychiatrist had evaluated Rupard and found him incompetent to stand trial, meaning his mental illness was severe enough to prevent him from understanding court proceedings.
“The psychiatrist noted the cell was dirty with trash throughout,” the report said. “The toilet was full of excrement and the room was malodorous. There was feces on the floor and food smeared on the walls. The decedent was described as unkempt and dirty himself.”
According to the medical examiner, the psychiatrist recommended that Rupard be sent to a state hospital for treatment and involuntarily medicated as allowed by law.
Justino Rupard, 26, attended the Saturday demonstration where he shared photos of his father in happier times. He described the elder Rupard as his hero.
“I looked up to him,” he said, adding that he had waited a year to find out how his father died.
Sabrina Weddle, whose brother, Saxon Rodriguez, died in July 2021 from a fentanyl overdose in the Central Jail, spoke at the event.
“Somebody needs to be held accountable,” she said.
The Sheriff’s Department told the Union-Tribune last week that homicide investigators were looking into Rupard’s death. Once the investigation is complete, they will turn the case over to the District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to file criminal charges.
In an interview Friday, Sheriff Kelly Martinez told the Union-Tribune that the department has made changes following Rupard’s death to better care for people incarcerated with mental illness.
The reforms include “wellness teams” that check on people who have been flagged as seriously mentally ill. Martinez also said the department has sought to expedite conservatorships, a legal designation in which a court-appointed conservator makes decisions for someone deemed incapable of caring for himself or herself.