Correctional Officers Formally Charged with Murder, Assault

Three Santa Clara County correctional officers arrested last week on suspicion of beating an inmate to death have been officially charged with murder.

The District Attorney’s Office filed homicide and assault charges Tuesday against Jereh Lubrin, 28; Matthew Farris, 27; and Rafael Rodriquez, also 27, in connection to the death of 31-year-old Michael Tyree. Prosecutors have also accused the trio of assaulting a second inmate named Juan Villa. The Main Jail guards were arraigned the same day but entered no plea.

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The guards’ arrest came days after Tyree’s death. The mentally ill inmate—locked up for petty theft and drug possession—was found just after midnight on Aug. 27, battered, bloodied and smeared with vomit and feces on the floor of his one-man cell.

Lubrin, Farris and Rodriquez were the only ones to enter that cell the day before, according to Sheriff Laurie Smith. The Sheriff’s Office oversees the Department of Corrections (DOC), which staffs the two county jails. Tyree died of blunt force trauma that lacerated his internal organs, according to the county’s Medical Examiner-Coroner Joseph O’Hara.

Now, with charges officially filed, new details have emerged about events leading up to Tyree’s death. Investigators say the confrontation between Tyree and the officers started over a “pill call,” when correctional staff administer medication.

Tyree was housed in his own cell on the sixth floor, an area reserved for inmates in protective custody. On the evening of Aug. 26, Tyree pocketed his pills and walked away instead of taking them as directed, according to Sgt. Marc Carrasco, who was assigned by the Sheriff’s Office to investigate the case

A jail nurse told Lubrin, who confronted Tyree and ordered him back to the “pill call” window.

“Inmate Tyree called Nurse Marilyn a liar and a rapist,” Carrasco wrote in his statement of facts filed with the DA’s charges. “Once back at the window, Inmate Tyree took the pills from his pocket and ate them.”

Hours later, inmates on the sixth floor were allowed to leave their cells for what jail officials call “program time” in the common areas. Tyree joined the other inmates in swapping dirty clothes for a fresh jumpsuit. Inmates then returned to their cells while Lubrin and Farris conducted a routine search to see if anyone squirreled away extra clothing.

Close to 11pm that night, per Carrasco’s narrative, Rodriquez joined the other two officers to confront another inmate, Juan Villa, about a dispute he had earlier that day. Officers allegedly hit Villa in the head and twisted his arms, “leaving visible marks on them.”

The officers then left Villa’s cell and continued to search the lower level of the pod, according to Carrasco. When they got to Tyree’s cell—No. 39—Lubrin and Farris entered while Rodriquez waited outside the open door.

“Do I have to get up?” Tyree reportedly asked. Farris answered affirmatively, rousing him from his bed.

“Inmate Tyree’s distinctive voice could be heard screaming, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Stop,’” Carrasco wrote. “Screaming could be heard throughout the pod for several minutes and was accompanied by the sounds of thumping, wall banging and what sounded like blows to a person’s body. At some point during the screaming period, Officer Rodriquez closed the door so that it was open a small amount.”

The encounter left Tyree with wounds on his eye, chin and cheek, bruises above his left ear and injuries on his upper arms, legs, back and hips. The most serious injury was on his lower left back, which ruptured his spleen and liver.

“The internal bleeding from this injury caused Inmate Tyree to die within minutes to no more than one hour,” Carrasco stated. “The officers then left Inmate Tyree’s cell continuing their searches. They did not call for medical assistance for Inmate Tyree.”

For an hour, no one entered Tyree’s cell. Then, minutes after midnight, Lubrin came back and radioed a “man down” alert. Tyree was pronounced dead at 12:35am.

Following Sheriff Smith’s announcement that she was recommending murder charges against the three officers, community members staged a protest Friday urging officials to look into other cases of abuse.

If convicted, Lubrin, Farris and Rodriquez could face life in prison.

“These men violated the law, human dignity, and the job that they were sworn to do,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement Tuesday. “They may have thought that their violence, enacted late at night in the obscurity of a jail cell and against a helpless and mentally ill inmate, was invisible. Today we see it for all of its brutality. Mr. Tyree was not invisible. His death was not invisible. We will see that there is justice.”

San Jose's retired Independent Police Auditor wrote an op-ed in the Mercury News over the weekend urging county leaders to establish an office of civilian oversight for the DOC.

"When correctional deputies police themselves, there is no accountability to the community," she wrote. "Secrecy and darkness are dangerous; they have no place in the DOC or in any other part of the Sheriff's Department."

The chief of corrections, Undersheriff John Hirokawa, told an ABC7 reporter that he takes personal responsibility for Tyree’s killing and will re-open investigations into complaints about brutality under the color of authority. Tyree’s death has once again raised concerns about how jail authorities deal with mentally ill inmates.

For decades, jail watchdogs have called attention to the lack of training and lack of facilities for inmates with psychiatric issues. Lubrin spoke but said little to The Merc in a jailhouse interview last week. In another interview with the newspaper, Rodriquez denied the charges. Only Farris has not yet made a public statement about the case.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Wait? Were these three guys sheriff’s deputies or not? I thought I read in that other newspaper that they were contractors, not actual employees of the sheriff’s office. But in this paragraph, that starts out, “…Following Sheriff Smith’s announcement that she was …” you call them deputies. What gives? Or do I just not understand what a deputy is? Thanks!

    • Correction officers (COs) work in the jails under purview of the Department of Correction. Deputy sheriffs, who are paid more and receive more training, work primarily outside the jail though some supervise the COs at Elmwood and the Main Jail. Sheriff Smith oversees both deputies and the COs.

      • Have you checked your facts with “Mike the Taxpayer” on this? He has written extensively on this subject.

    • In 1988, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors (BOS), in an attempt to save money, created a new County Department of Detention (DOD, later changed to the Department of Correction [DOC]), to be headed by a board-appointed county official, and transferred to it the management of county jail facilities, which had been under the jurisdiction of the sheriff, Robert Winter. Winter, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Santa Clara County (DSA), and DSA president Tom Beck (also a county resident, taxpayer, and sheriff’s sergeant) sued for a declaration that the BOS resolutions were invalid. The Superior Court gave judgment for the defendant county. The Sixth District Court of Appeal upheld the Superior Court’s ruling. (Beck vs. County of Santa Clara). The action by the BOS created a division between the Deputy Sheriffs and the lower paid corrections officers, who were not sworn peace officers and thus could not legally carry firearms. Around 1992 the Director of the DOC attempted to give limited peace officer status to the corrections officers so that they could carry firearms. That act was overturned in court as being in excess of the Director’s authority. (County of Santa Clara vs. DSA. As Scott Herhold wrote last week in the Murky News: “The idea was that the new department (the DOD) would hire its own lesser-paid jailers, saving the county money and bringing the jails more under the control of supervisors. But this arrangement was bulky and saved less than expected. In 2012, voters gave the sheriff a large measure of control again.” However, the corrections officers still have less training than deputy sheriffs. Baltimore just agreed to pay $6.4 million to the relatives of Freddie Gray, who died apparently because Baltimore police were not trained adequately in handling a combative arrestee, allegedly resulting in Mr. Gray’s death. The now-sainted Mr. Gray was a career criminal. His family will now receive a huge windfall as a result of his untimely death, which did nothing more than leave one more career drug dealer off the streets of Baltimore. With that precedent, and given the Bay Area’s propensity to award large sums to the families of criminals killed by local police, Mr. Tyree’s family can expect a larger settlement. The soon-to-be-sainted Michael Tyree was a bipolar man off his medication, with convictions for resisting arrest, possession of drug paraphernalia, an “undisclosed” sex offense, and petty theft. We get the usual drivel from his ex girlfriend that he “really had a kind heart.” Reminds me of Michael Brown, called a “gentle giant” by his thug friends. The 290 pound Brown had a long rap sheet and was beating the cr*p out of a much smaller cop in Ferguson before the cop shot him in self defense. Thugs and nut jobs have all the rights these days, and cops must be EMTs and psychotherapists on the streets. Well, there is one difference between the deaths of Messrs. Brown and Gray and the death of Mr. Tyree—no riots, vandalism, and looting in response to Mr. Tyree’s untimely death.

    • I disagree. If the Sheriff did not arrest these guys, the DA would wait several months for a grand jury. She accelerated the legal process.

  2. > The chief of corrections, Undersheriff John Hirokawa, told an ABC7 reporter that he takes personal responsibility for Tyree’s killing and will re-open investigations into complaints about brutality under the color of authority.

    Oh, goody.

    I assume this means that Undersheriff Hirokawa is going to pay the $6.4 million wrongful death settlement out of his own pants pocket.

  3. Jack Slade Here!
    I wonder when they will get the message; the Power of The State, a Gun and a Badge is not a scared person’s license to Kill unless you are willing to pay the price with a saturated public who has had enough. We have been involved in a major self-funded project for three years, at a personal cost of $896,000.00 . We have had a very pointed view on deaths by police and now we can tell you why and give you the big picture. Every killing involving police across the country has been researched the same way the DOJ in States and in the Federal Government could gather the information from Federal, State, County and City Medical Examiners and from public records and death certificates. They didn’t want to know and have to investigate the killings. Now the killings are being filmed and put on TV so they have to do something due to riots and marches and the calling for “Death to Pigs”. Now you may have the benefit of our knowledge as we return to misconduct of police in the 60’s and 70’s and understand the reason we have been so tough on people who shouldn’t be cops and why there is no longer any respect for people who act like an occupying army that kills at will.

    The Great Chinese Fire Drill, all of these Keystone Cops and they had to kill an unarmed man!

    Didn’t you know you have no rights?

    What did you expect?

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