The family of Jalani Lovett, a 27-year-old who died in a Los Angeles jail last year, is demanding that the county sheriff’s department be held accountable and authorities release more information about the final moments of his life.
Lovett died in solitary confinement in Men’s Central jail in downtown LA on 22 September. The county coroner released an autopsy report on Tuesday saying Lovett’s death was “accidental” and that he had fentanyl and heroin in his system.
But Lovett’s mother and siblings, who have been fighting for months to get basic information from authorities about what led to his death, are left with major questions about the case. If Lovett died from an overdose, how did he access fentanyl while in solitary confinement? What were the actions of guards on duty that night, in a jail with a history of mistreatment? And why did it take so long for the coroner to produce the autopsy report, which the county sent to a reporter this week before the family obtained it?
“I’m a grieving mother, but I’m also an angry mother,” Terry Lovett, 65, told the Guardian this week in an interview from her home in Oakland. She said the sheriff’s department, which runs the jail, had repeatedly ignored her family’s pleas for answers: “They have no regard for human life.”
“I want the truth to come out,” she added. “To me, this was murder. They killed my son.”
Christian Contreras, a local civil rights attorney, filed a claim against the county on behalf of the family on Wednesday, the first step in a lawsuit, alleging “negligence causing wrongful death”, “deliberate indifference” in violation of the fourteenth amendment, an “inhumane killing” and more.
A long wait for answers: ‘What are they hiding?’
Jalani Lovett, one of six siblings, grew up in east Oakland. He excelled at basketball and baseball as a teenager and won a poetry medal in school, his mother said. He was an aspiring rapper and a family man who was close with his nieces and nephews.
Deputies should be accountable for their actions, just like we are for oursVanessa Carter, Jalani Lovett’s sister
He ended up at Men’s Central jail in September 2019 for a second-degree robbery charge, and his mother said he had been held in solitary confinement in the months before his death. A sheriff’s spokesperson told the Guardian he was in a “one-man cell” and was not there for disciplinary reasons.
Terry Lovett said a detective in the sheriff’s homicide bureau informed her on the morning of 23 September that her son “was found dead” in his cell at 10pm the previous night. The official added that authorities had found “drug paraphernalia” in her son’s cell, she recalled, but said the investigation was ongoing.
The family received little information from officials in the following weeks, they said. One investigator initially told Terry it could take eight months for her to get an official report, she recalled.
About a month after the death, the family obtained photos from the coroner’s office showing Jalani’s body shortly after he died, which they believed showed signs of bruising and other possible injuries.
Fueling their concerns further was a long history of scandals at the Men’s Central jail, with controversies including corruption and obstruction of justice cases and documented evidence of widespread abuse of incarcerated people. Jalani was housed in a section of the jail, the 3000 block, where guards have long been accused of being part of a “deputy gang” called the 3000 Boys, known for allegedly using excessive force.
Vanessa Carter, one of Jalani’s sisters, said she talked had with her brother hours before his death and overheard him get into an argument with a guard, which also made the family suspicious. Combined with the photos and lack of information, the family questioned whether guards had beaten Jalani.
Jalani’s official death certificate, issued a month after his death, listed his cause of death as “deferred”, meaning the medical examiner’s investigation was ongoing. It also listed the time of death as four hours earlier than what Terry was initially told, according to her records.
The coroner’s report, released this week, noted he had a bruise on his neck and abrasions on his arms, but said there was “no external trauma” or “life-threatening injuries”. The report said deputies had found him unresponsive in his cell and issued Narcan and CPR.
Lt Brandon Dean of the sheriff’s department told the Guardian that there were no signs Jalani had an altercation with guards, and that there was “nothing out of the ordinary” in his death. He declined to answer questions about how Jalani could have accessed fentanyl. Asked about the 3000 Boys, Dean declined to comment, saying it was not relevant to the case.
The coroner’s report said the autopsy had been conducted on 28 September, one week after Jalani’s death.
Contreras said he had filed a request for records in November, seeking footage, reports and the identity of the involved deputies, but had received no response. The coroner’s office sent the Guardian a copy of the autopsy on Tuesday before the attorney or Terry Lovett had seen it.
The family said they were skeptical of the coroner’s report. “There are too many inconsistencies. What is being hidden?” Lovett said after receiving the report. She said she planned to have an independent medical examiner review the records.
‘I want to stop this from happening to others’
Contreras lamented the lack of transparency in the case, which he said was common in jail deaths: “When someone in their own custody dies in highly suspicious circumstances, as opposed to meeting with the family and providing answers, the sheriff’s department advances further secrecy.”
Carter, Jalani’s sister, said she believed deputies should face charges for her brother’s death: “They are supposed to ‘protect and serve’ and take care of people. We should not be scared of them, and they should be accountable for their actions, just like we are for ours.” She added that she wanted her brother to be remembered as a loyal family man who taught her son, now 14, how to walk and play basketball.
Ladell Dickerson, Jalani’s older brother, said that regardless of the cause of death, the county was to blame: “This is negligence. He was in their custody. He was under the authority of the sheriff. He was not in jail with a death sentence, but somebody in that jail either killed him or allowed him to die.”
At a protest outside the jail on what would have been Jalani’s 28th birthday this week, Michelle Lovett, another sister, wished her brother a happy birthday, adding: “The system took my brother, but they will not take our right to know the truth.”
Terry Lovett also lodged a complaint with the office of inspector general in November, but has not heard back. She said she was not confident that she would get justice for her son in LA county, but that she would keep fighting. She said she now spent most days trying to get information on the case: “I know I can’t bring my son back, but I want to stop this from happening to somebody else’s child.”
In Terry’s final call with her son, Jalani was in a good mood, she said. He heard he would be transferring soon to state prison to finish his sentence. He was looking forward to leaving the jail, she said, and getting one step closer to coming home.
Source: Thanks msn.com