A 25-year-old man who died in Kern County sheriff’s custody Monday night had two plastic baggies with illegal drugs stuffed in his throat, the department reported.
Deputies noticed Wilfredo Ramos was having trouble breathing after he’d been put in the back of a patrol car at about 9:40 p.m. in the 1900 block of South J Street, sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt said on Tuesday.
The death is the second in just over a month in which a suspect has died while in sheriff’s custody.
In the previous case, David Sal Silva struggled with deputies and California Highway Patrol officers May 7 outside Kern Medical Center. After the use of batons and a dog, deputies took Silva into custody, but he experienced trouble breathing and died soon after. His family has filed federal civil rights claims alleging excessive police force killed him.
Sheriff’s department reaction to the Ramos death seemed to have been influenced by criticism of how the Silva case was handled:
• It took the Sheriff’s Office nearly 24 hours to release a detailed press release on Ramos’ death.
• The release said that while detectives investigated Ramos’ death, a cellphone containing possible video evidence was seized pursuant to a search warrant. The press release then carefully noted that the phone’s contents were imaged and the phone was returned to its owner. (The identity of the owner was not made clear.)
The sheriff’s department came under intense criticism over the seizure of witness’s cellphones after Silva’s death.
• The release also noted that paramedics were called twice: once when Ramos was hurt as deputies captured him and again when Ramos stopped breathing.
• And the release said Ramos at the end of the chase turned and confronted deputies with his fists raised. But deputies used no weapons to take him to the ground.
The case unfolded on Monday night as deputies were looking for a man with a felony warrant. They found him and took him into custody, Pruitt said.
While deputies were in the area, they saw another man, later identified as Ramos, leave the back of a trailer that was parked next to apartments. As he was walking he noticed the deputies and stopped, Pruitt said. Deputies saw Ramos was holding what appeared to be a baggie containing illegal narcotics, and they tried to contact him, but he ran, the spokesman, said, and reportedly threw items on the ground.
According to a Sheriff’s Office report released late Tuesday, Ramos stopped, turned toward the deputies, raised his fists and attempted to hit them. After a 50-yard chase deputies forced him to the ground and placed him in handcuffs, Pruitt said.
Ramos was put in the back seat of a patrol car, and deputies called for an ambulance for the minor cuts he had suffered when he was being handcuffed, Pruitt said. Paramedics began to treat the minor injuries, but Ramos declined medical aid and the ambulance left, Pruitt said.
A short time later, while Ramos sat in the patrol car, deputies noticed he was having a difficulty breathing. They took him out of the car, removed the handcuffs and began performing CPR, Pruitt said.
The ambulance was called back. Paramedics opened Ramos’ mouth to clear his airway and removed two plastic baggies from his throat. The baggies contained illegal narcotics, Pruitt said.
Ramos was taken to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital and was pronounced dead at 11:37 p.m. Monday.
When Maria Gomez arrived at her apartment at 11:30 p.m. Monday, she said, she saw patrol cars along South J Street but was not close enough to see why deputies were there.
“I’ve been living here for the past year and a half and honestly, we see so many drug dealers going in and out of that trailer that I assumed it had something to do with that, but I didn’t want to involve myself, so I just went inside and locked my door,” Gomez said.
An autopsy was completed Tuesday and the cause of Ramos’ death is pending further toxicological studies, a coroner’s news release said.