Santa Clara County deputies found guilty of inmate's death

SAN JOSE (KTVU) -- A Santa Clara County jury on Thursday convicted all three Santa Clara County sheriff's correctional deputies who were accused in the fatal beating death two years ago of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree.

28-year-old Matthew Farris, 28-year-old Rafael Rodriguez and 30-year-old Jereh Lubrin were each found guilty of second-degree murder during a verdict announced about 4:50 p.m. The three were charged with killing Tyree, 31, on Aug. 26, 2015, and assaulting another mentally-ill inmate, Juan Villa, earlier that evening. Villa recovered from the attack and was able to testify against the deputies during the trial.

None of the deputies showed any emotion when the verdicts were read although Tyree's family members wept as the verdicts were read.

Families of the three guards didn't want to talk to media. As deputies placed the men in handcuffs, family members could be heard yelling "be strong" and "I love you."

During a press conference after the verdict, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said justice has been delivered.

"We cannot and did not turn away from the tragedy of Michael Tyree," he said. "We will never forget Michael Tyree in our fight for those who see vulnerabilities as an opportunity to harm rather than help."

Tyree's injuries included lacerations to the liver and spleen, which was nearly severed in two, when he was found in his cell naked and covered in vomit and feces.

“Trapped behind bars and in his mental illness, Michael Tyree could not stand up to the men whose job it was to protect him,” said Rosen.

The sister of Tyree, who was in the courtroom, provided a statement that read, “Michael was a human being. These jurors recognized that he was loved. He mattered then and he will continue to matter with this verdict.”

Tyree’s death sparked outrage and intense scrutiny over the jail system. It also raised questions for Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith. The county has now installed more cameras and is looking at independent jail oversight.

“We will not be defined by the actions of these three individuals,” said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith. “We've been undergoing a broad transformation ensuring safety, quality and the safety of our facilities.”

The coroner ruled on Aug. 31 that Tyree had died of internal bleeding due to blunt force trauma. The deputies were arrested the next day.

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On the day he died, Tyree was waiting to be sent to a mental health facility after serving five days for failing to appear on a misdemeanor charge of petty theft and possession of stolen property. But he was still in the Main Jail because there wasn’t a bed for him in the mental health center, authorities have said.

In September, Santa Clara County agreed to pay $3.6 million to settle an excessive force claim filed by Tyree’s family.

During the two-month trial, defense attorneys argued that Tyree died after he fell from his jail toilet into a steel sink that was part of his cell.

The defense argued that Santa Clara County medical examiner Joseph O'Hara jumped to the conclusion that Tyree had been beaten to death. And they also alleged that O'Hara did an inadequate investigation of the cell, including a scrawled message over Tyree's doorway that attorneys for the guards claimed could have been a suicide note.

Each of the guard have been out after they each posted a $1.5 million bail.

But prosecutors relied on witness testimony in their efforts to paint the correctional deputies who enjoyed physically attacking inmates.

The guards now face a minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole. KTVU's legal consultant Michael Cardoza said the three would have to serve at least 15 years in state prison before they would be eligible for parole.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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