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Sundee Weddle has many questions about what happened to her son Saxon Rodriguez on July 20, 2021. That’s the day the 22-year-old was found dead in a San Diego jail from a fentanyl overdose.
Weddle said she has repeatedly called the Sheriff’s Department seeking information but has not been able to get answers. What was her son asked during the booking process? What was his demeanor on the day of his death? Is there video surveillance that could shed any light on his case?
“My motivation is really just to find out what happened to Saxon,” she told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Weddle said that when she has called the department with questions, she has been referred to the legal office and no one picks up the phone.
“I’m still in shock and I’m still searching for answers,” she said.
The Sheriff’s Department says it has had a family liaison protocol in place since August 2019, but as Weddle’s experience suggests, the protocol may not have always been followed.
On Tuesday, the county’s Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board, which provides oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, will consider a recommendation that language be added to the liaison policy to mandate that a department representative meet with the family of someone who dies in custody, during the process of arrest or who experiences a significant injury at the hands of sheriff’s deputies.
“The purpose of the meeting,” the recommendation says, “will be to advise the family of the investigative outcome, answer questions and provide information when appropriate.”
The review board’s role is limited to advising the sheriff on policy changes, meaning the department is not required to accept recommendations.
Relatives of several people who have died in Sheriff’s Department custody since the policy was enacted have told the Union-Tribune that they have been unable to get details about the events surrounding the deaths of their loved ones. Many have hired attorneys to help them get answers.
AC Mills, whose son Kevin Lamar Mills died in a San Diego County jail almost two years ago, still has not been able to access department medical records generated during the few days his son spent in custody.
Tammy Wilson, whose husband Omar Moreno Arroyo was arrested by sheriff’s deputies after she called 911 early last year seeking help for him, was kept waiting outside the Men’s Central Jail in downtown San Diego all night, even though Arroyo died in custody hours earlier.
In the months since their loved ones died, both Mills and Wilson, like Weddle, have become vocal critics of Sheriff’s Department practices.
Park Parker, the review board’s executive officer, said he proposed the policy revision after speaking to family members in the course of his investigations.
“I have never heard that a family was contacted upon the conclusion of an investigation and provided an opportunity to learn its results and have their questions answered,” he said.
“Families are probably being contacted at the very start of the investigation,” he added, “but information is hardly ever provided during subsequent interactions.”
Parker said that any contact from the department appears to be related to homicide investigators obtaining information, not answering questions.
That was Weddle’s experience. She said she was contacted by a homicide investigator.
“A lot of his line of questioning made me feel like they wanted to make Saxon’s death seem like Saxon’s fault,” she said.
Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Lt. Amber Baggs said that there is no formal recordkeeping when it comes to families being contacted by a liaison, and there is not a single employee who works as a liaison, but several.
Baggs said that if there were specific cases where a family was not provided with a liaison, she would look into it.
“If a mistake was made, I would like to know about it so it can be corrected and not happen again,” she said.
Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com