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California police kept death in custody a secret for seven years, inquiry reveals

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Courtney MefferdCalifornia law enforcement officials have worked for seven years to keep secret a death in police custody, labeling the case an “accident” and refusing to disclose basic information to journalists and the family of the victim, an investigation published on Monday reveals.

Darryl Mefferd, 49, died on 8 December 2016 while he was detained by police in Vallejo, a city of 125,000 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The case was uncovered by Open Vallejo, a local non-profit news organization, which shared its records with the Guardian.

The afternoon before he died, Mefferd had seemed disoriented and dehydrated and was making paranoid remarks, so his niece, Courtney Mefferd, took him to a local hospital. He was treated with vitamins and a sedative and declared “stable”, medical records show. By around 11pm, he was anxious to be discharged and left the hospital against doctors’ recommendations.

Outside the hospital, Mefferd encountered the Vallejo police department (VPD) officer Jeremy Callinan. Callinan was responding to the hospital’s call for help with a female patient who had fled the facility, but the officer instead located Mefferd and placed him in “protective custody”, police records show. When Cindie, Mefferd’s sister, arrived at the hospital, she saw Callinan leading her brother into a police vehicle, she told Open Vallejo. She said she asked the officer to let her take her brother home, but the officer refused and said he would instead take Mefferd to a mental health crisis center. “They are going to kill me,” Cindie recalled her brother saying as he was driven away.


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