By Steve Brooks, Journalism Guild Writer
A new police transparency law went into effect in early October, leading to the public disclosure of Santa Clara County Sheriff Deputy David Tempra’s firing over a 2015 beating death.
Tempra was fired for lying about the death of Michael Tyree, a mentally ill inmate. Deputies Rafael Rodriguez, Matthew Farris, and Jereh Lubrin were arrested and charged with second-degree murder in Tyree’s beating, according to KQED News.
“Your conduct has cast considerable doubt on your integrity and character,” the firing decision read. “You have tarnished your reputation and violated the public trust. You have dishonored the Sheriff’s Office, your fellow Correctional Deputies and Officers, and our profession.”
Rodriguez, Farris and Lubrin all faced trial and subsequently were convicted and sentenced to 15-years-to-life in 2017.
Tempra, who was on duty the night Tyree died, controlled the doors that provided access to Tyree’s housing unit. He failed to report the use of force against both Tyree and Juan Villa—another inmate beaten in the same unit that night. Tempra reported that he didn’t hear any noise.
The Sheriff’s criminal investigation concluded that Tyree could be heard screaming for several minutes “and was accompanied by the sounds of thumping, wall banging and what sounded like blows to a person’s body.”
Tempra only admitted this during a fourth round of questioning, according to KQED News.
Tempra was also initially hesitant to report seeing Farris and Rodriguez “knuckle bumps” as they left the module, where Tyree lay dying on the cell floor. He only admitted this after an inmate reported seeing deputies doing “fist pounds” after they finished searching the cells.
Tyree’s spleen and liver were severed as a result of blunt force trauma. According to an autopsy report, that was the injury that killed him.
The Tyree family’s attorney argued that the county is responsible for Tyree’s death. “Juan and Michael should have been on a psychiatric unit, not ‘protective custody,” attorney Paula Canny said.
Deputy Koret Shettleworth, who attended the sheriff’s academy with Rodiguez and Farris, said, “There was a level of inmate abuse that was deemed acceptable” at the main jail.
The Sheriff’s Office has subsequently updated training procedures and has revised its use-of-force policy.