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California inmate who died while in restraints cried out for help: "Somebody's gotta help me"

CA man in custody cried for help before death
Investigation finds California man cried out for help before death in Riverside County custody 05:38

A ProPublica investigation published Tuesday uncovers disturbing details about the death of a man in custody in California. ProPublica said it learned through 17 hours of surveillance video and documents that Riverside County jail staff failed to address inmate Phillip Garcia's urgent medical and mental health needs.

ProPublica also found staff used violent force against him, and it concluded through its investigation that deputies falsified reports. Garcia died less than two days after his arrest in 2017.

In the last hours of his life, Garcia can be heard pleading with deputies. "Somebody's gotta help me. Please, man," he says.

Garcia died shortly after those pleas and his death was ruled a homicide. According to his autopsy, the cause of death was a mental health crisis combined with rhabdomyolysis, a fatal condition that can be caused by overexertion.

"The psychological crisis combined with the restraints led to the fatal condition," said ProPublica reporter Ryan Grabrielson, who co-authored the story. He said they believe Garcia arrived at the jail in a state of psychosis.

"The sheriff's department saw him only as someone who wouldn't follow orders and that had to be punished," Grabrielson said.

ProPublica spent months investigating the case and found "deputies repeatedly struck, shoved and twisted Garcia's head and limbs when he was already tied down." And, based on its analysis of records and video it obtained, ProPublica concluded that deputies "falsified jail logs," and "then made false statements in their reports after" Garcia died.

Garcia was arrested in March 2017 after he allegedly smashed a neighbor's window and was found acting bizarrely. A family friend told ProPublica Garcia had a "history of seizures, mental illness and inconsistent treatment."

After his arrest, the 51-year-old was placed in isolation in a Riverside County jail cell where he is seen on video acting erratically.

ProPublica reports that over the course of around 18 hours, Garcia does not appear to eat, sleep or see a mental health or medical professional.

When Garcia then begins to damage his cell, deputies use a barrage of weapons on him, including a stinger grenade. They are then seen on video rushing in.

"They should be trained to de-escalate a person and not right away try to take them down, but it's been my observation and once an inmate is to that level, it's their will against the inmate's will," said Robbie Thomas, a mental health specialist who previously worked at the jail.

After 21 hours in the jail, Garcia was brought to Riverside University Health System Medical Center, but they did not have a bed for him.

"Philip Garcia waits 12 hours in the emergency room waiting for a bed in full restraints, in a gurney, all the while straining against them," Grabrielson said.

A few hours later, Garcia is believed to have died in those restraints.

A government survey released in 2017 found that inmates have higher rates of serious psychological distress than the general population. Thirty-seven percent of state and federal prisoners had been told in the past by a professional that they had a mental health disorder and 26% of jail inmates reported experiences that met the threshold for serious psychological distress.

After watching the footage of Garcia, Dr. Jhliam Biswas, a forensic psychiatrist, told CBS News correspondent Carter Evans, "What I saw was a very confused, disoriented individual who wasn't able to make sense of his environment."

Describing the appropriate way to approach someone in Garcia's state, Biswas said, "A lot of what we do is use the least restrictive methods we can because we do know using restraints can be extremely traumatizing.

"This is an opportunity and a moment for us to think about how we can add rehabilitative services in jails. ... If we can have more conversations and more cross-training, I think ultimately it would really benefit the individuals who get incarcerated rather than hospitalized."

CBS News reached out to the Garcia family's attorney and the sheriff's office, but both declined to comment. The medical center said in a statement it is limited on the information it can share, but its goal is always "to provide all patients with high-quality care that meets each individual's physical and behavioral needs."

The family recently settled a lawsuit for nearly $1 million, but Riverside County did not admit wrongdoing and denied all allegations.

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