Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Cadet Dies After Collapsing During Academy Training

A Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office cadet reportedly died Tuesday from heart failure suffered during an intense training exercise.

“It is with great sadness we report the unexpected passing of one of our recruits,” Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Officer Jessica Gabaldon wrote in an email Wednesday in response to questions from San Jose Inside. “The recruit had been participating in defensive tactics training at the academy yesterday. The recruit was rushed to the hospital by ambulance; however, tragically did not survive.”

Though the county withheld the name of the decedent, multiple sources familiar with the matter identified him as 39-year-old John Nishimura, a member of Academy Class No. 21. They say he collapsed Tuesday while sparring with a proctor who wore a RedMan suit—padded, head-to-toe gear designed to absorb blows from baton strikes.

The cadet reportedly spent the ensuing hours on life support at San Jose Regional Medical Center, where officials say he was pronounced dead before the day’s end.

Law enforcement academies use RedMan suits in what’s known as weaponless defense training, which aims to stimulate confrontations between officers and suspects. But the method has been a source of controversy for decades because of its serious injury risk.

In the three-and-a-half decades since RedMan Training Gear’s founding, one news article after another has documented the damage incurred by aspiring law enforcement officers using the signature red foam suits.

A 1992 Los Angeles Times report details how the Alhambra Police Department had second thoughts after several officers came away from training sessions with “concussion-like symptoms” and, in one case, a broken toe. More recently, in 2016, an investigation in Massachusetts found that failure to heed product warnings about the protective suits led to a police recruit losing an eye during a state-run academy training.

Though RedMan trainings haven’t garnered any local press attention to speak of, sources tell SJI that they’ve been the subject of heated internal debate at the Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Sean Allen—speaking as an employee rep and not on behalf of the agency—said he’s received numerous complaints about RedMan training over the years—several of which surfaced after three deputies beat inmate Michael Tyree to death in 2015.

Most notably, Jereh Lubrin—one of the three correctional officers convicted in Tyree’s murder—broke his arm during RedMan training as years prior.

According to Allen, a former Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Association board member who’s worked for the Sheriff’s Office since the mid-1990s, RedMan exercises are often used as punishment for some of the more difficult cadets.

“There have been multiple allegations of trainers targeting trainees because of perceived ‘bad attitudes,’” he said. “In one case, an employee suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung. In other incidents, there have been broken limbs, head and face trauma.”

As a lifelong martial artist and experienced instructor, Allen said he finds the number of complaints about the practice concerning, to say the least.

“I have trained and learned from international level martial artist and I have never hurt a student during training,” Allen sad. “RedMan should be used to teach cadets how to ‘survive’ a violent encounter using all options, [including] evasion. But if taught or learned incorrectly, it could result in either extreme aggression or cowardice.”

The Sheriff’s Office has yet to respond to requests for additional information.

An example of the RedMan suit in action. (Photo via U.S. Air Force)

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

6 Comments

  1. I cannot keep quiet any longer. The more I read this article the more angry I become. In the wake of this horrible tragedy, I am appalled that a man who committed to embarking on a public service career could be treated so poorly by individuals with selfish agendas. This Cadet left behind classmates, friends, and family. His tragic passing affected an entire agency, most who hadn’t experienced the pleasure of meeting him yet. But he was part of a law enforcement family, committed to serving the community.

    Instead, a journalist tried to highlight a controversy that doesn’t exist, and advance her own anti-police agenda in this piece. Furthermore, she made the decision as a journalist to release a person’s name who had just passed away, and his name was not available to the public yet. You would think in making that decision that she would check to see if she spelled his name correctly. But in the photo caption, I guess that was an oversight in the hopes of making “breaking news.”

    I also hope that there are some level of journalist standards as she expects from law enforcement in holding them to their own standards. Here, she used a source to speak against the Sheriff’s Office without checking his credentials. Sean “Rex Kwon Do” Allen is a coward. During Covid-19, he has been generally been absent from his work post. Not ill, just selfish and scared. Sean Allen is not even a peace officer. He surely is not a Sheriff’s Sergeant. He is a correctional sergeant and a teacher of nothing law enforcement related. He isn’t even a member of the CPOA union that you hold him out to be a part of, or an employee representative of anyone. He is beyond a has been, he is a never was. He speaks merely to advance his crooked and selfish agenda. He attempts to paralyze Sheriff’s Administration with his public spectacles and news leaks to hide his sub-par work performance and sleezy tendencies. Sean, you have no respect and no dignity with your statements and actions. Shame on you.

    My sincere condolences to the Nishimura family for your loss. No one should have to read this yellow journalism in the wake of this tragedy, and at least the Mercury News was able to cover this story without the spin.

  2. With all the injuries you reference Jennifer, you never once tell us if they were injured as the “red man” or in training with the “red man”, why did you leave that out? What’s more, you did not tell us if the deceased was acting as the “red man” when he suffered the heart attack, or if he was the trainee working with the “red man”. Seems like that would be important info if you are truly interested in the safety and effectiveness of the program.

    I’m with Vic above, you seem to lack the same standards as you expect from others. Yours seems to be “the ends justify the means”, which tells me you not only have an axe to grind, you have an agenda.

  3. Hey, Vic. A couple points of clarification.

    Just because a cadet’s name wasn’t released by official sources, does not mean a news outlet can’t publish it. Quite often, actually, reporters confirm names before authorities choose to disclose them. It’s our job to err on the side of disclosure, whether or not the authorities approve. You’ll notice that the Merc, too — whose article you say you approve of — also chose to name the recruit.

    The exception to the name disclosure standard is for victims of sexual assault. As a rule, journalist keep them anonymous unless they explicitly consent to being identified.

    Secondly, you say I didn’t check Sgt. Allen’s credentials and take issue with him because, even though he’s an LEO source, he’s not one you approve of. Therefore, you can construe any criticism from him — a veteran cop —as somehow anti-cop. Yet where in the story did I mis-cite his credentials? I did not “hold him out t be part of” the CPOA—I specifically say he’s a former board member. Your other feelings abut him are your opinions, which you’re entitled to hold. But that’s not enough to discredit him as a source.

    Thanks for weighing in.

  4. For those who feel the need to run Sean down, you don’t know him. I served on the SCCCPOA Board with him. So yes he was a Board Member during several water marked periods that drove our Evolution. During the DOC days choke holds were removed from our Use Of Force Policy around 1995 after Rodney King. In those days in the Jails you had no striking, Pepper Spray or stun weapons. We stressed Verbal Judo and other techniques to de-escalate situations. Pepper spray was one of the few options that were negotiated for use in the jails. Sean was part of the process of securing the best training and reviewing the policies for used. So talk your shit, but if you were not part of helping to solve the issues like Sean and make the Use Of Force philosophy evolve I call bull shit. As far as his training, I have trained with him and been involved in several incidents with him in controlling inmates on PCP or other times they were out of control. Sean was ALWAYS among the first to respond.

    On a personal note. I think EVERY Deputy should spend at least two years in the jails. One at the Main Jail and one at Elmwood (to include the women’s side). This will help to create a well rounded Peace Officer. In the Jails you learn to relay on your verbal skills first, with force as a secondary option. You are exposed to various Racial and Gang elements. This is all done in a fishbowl. The heavy handed get identified quickly by both the inmate population and fellow staff. You learn to work with medical, mental health, programs, and probation. You see how everything is “SUPPOSED” to fit together. It adds tools to your bag when you transition to the streets. When the jails were returned to the Sheriff, this traing path was not used. It was an opportunity missed then, but it can now become a PROACTIVE tool.

    People have said facts were left out. The biggest fact is temperature in the training area. Red Man training is hot and sweaty. We can keep blaming or pointing fingers when what we need to do is identify the issues we can improve upon. This will evolve the training. Make it better. That is the legacy that must be realized from the tragic death of a young cadet.

  5. First off “Vic” if that is your real name. Sean was a SCCCPOA Board Member. I know because so was I and served with him under at least 3 different Presidents. Sean is a Martial Artist. I have trained with him and know his skill level. I have responded to calls for assistance from other officers. He was always among the first to respond. So he is not a coward. That word is reserved for someone who would talk sh*t about another man without posting his real name.

    I came up in the days before the Red Man suit. We had to learn force by receiving it. I think it made us more aware of the nature of force. The question was asked if the Cadet was “The Jason.” That is a good question alone with the temperature of the room and the suit is very warm and dehydration can happen and contribute to other factors. In the jails we did not have weapons absent an ERT call out. We had to rely on our verbal judo skills to de-escalate situations. When we FINALLY got Pepper Spray approved, Sean was a Board Member that sat in on the Meetings with the SCCCPOA, The Department and The County. He took part in reviewing the Policy as part of MEET AND CONFER.

    I agree this is a tragedy. It should not have happened. Since this has happened, several people have contacted me. These were current employees to people from other agencies that had seen how the Department does Red Man training. To a person it was not if a tragedy would happen but when. They seemed to support what Sean was pointing out. This included people from Probation that shares the training location. While the RED MAN is a wonderful training tool, it can create other issues such as an over reliance on weaponry such as a baton or striking instrument. A person will naturally gravitate the training they are most confident in. While USE OF FORCE by nature is violent to the on looker, it is necessary to obtain control. The trick is applying the least amount of force necessary to gain control. How an officer navigates from level to level will vary based upon training, knowledge and experience. Although the levels have definition, different people move up AND DOWN the levels at slightly different points. One has to know and articulate why the level was needed and how it established control. The only good that can come from a tragedy like this is to review what is being done. Look for better ways to accomplish the goal, and evolve into a better training program.

    In light of the current fish bowl we are in, we have to find a different way. The Red Man allows for “WORST CASE” scenarios. Like Sean pointed out that must include escape, and evasion skills. Time and Distance are key factors in Use of Force. I still remember the words of my first Training Officer: “You cannot outrun MOTOROLA.” In the Jail, we stressed “VERBAL JUDO” to de-escalate incidents. Jails may be contained by their nature, but creating a proper parameter does the same thing. The Jail lost choke holds after Rodney King around 1995. We adapted and evolved. We were always looking for better ways to accomplish the goals. We always stressed in training that inmates are there AS punishment, NOT FOR punishment. Remembering that will help us navigate this current fish bowl and come out for the better.

    Law Enforcement has become more reactionary since that bank robbery in Van Nyes where the robbers had body armor and assault rifles. It escalated the worst case scenario. Assault rifles became standard issue to police address this threat. It also had the side effect of escalating training for the worst case. Sadly, the NO FEDERAL REGULATION OR LAW was established to cover the use of assault rifles or body armor. Thus both body armor and assault rifles can be openly carried on the many streets. This only adds to the nightmare survival scenario many Leo’s fear. The LEO is placed on the razor edge of Community Policing vs Survival. Surviving encounters has become the focus rather than controlling the encounter. In controlling an encounter, time and distance is your friend. When you loose time and distance, chaos ensues and mistakes can be made. Yet here we see We must look to how we prepare to find the answers the public is demanding. In looking hard at every aspect of how we train can we turn this tragedy into a legacy of change.

    When the Sheriff had the jails returned to her, she had thoughts of requiring every Deputy to spend at least two years in the jails prior to transitioning to the streets. This would have followed the ALADS model. This would allow for a year at the Main Jail and a year at Elmwood (to include the women’s side). This would have exposed the new Deputy to several to various training moments. Gangs, Racial Politics, Gender Interaction, and Lifedtyle choices are highlighted within the closed community of the jails. This extreme microcosm mirrors the challenges found on the streets. Learning to deal with these challenges WITHOUT many of the weapons of the streets, the Deputy learns to trust their verbal skills and develop a deep situational awareness. In the jails, you learn to rely on Medical Staff, Mental Health Professionals, Programs, and Probation and how they can help you do your job. Training staff and first line Supervisors can identify areas need for improvement to mentor the new Deputy. This would allow the Deputy to be their best when they hit the streets.

    Finally you talk about how the article is yellow journalism. No offense but it is the Metro. The INSIDER may never win a Pulitzer. It is kinda like expecting a gourmet TACO from Taco Bell. THE METRO is great for starting needed discussions that others may shy away from. To me they have served the purpose of shining a light on a very touchy subject matter under the surface in their article on the tragic death of this Cadet. They have started the discussion that is going to happen with or without us. Although it is entertaining to watch shows like THE SHIELD, it must be viewed as what we should not accept in real life rather than a guide to strive for.

    I hope a civil discussion on the elements of improving Use Of Force can be discussed here and eventually move into a more formal forum.

  6. First off, Dick, ooops I mean Vic, although we know that’s not your real name, yet as you hide behind that name, you call one of the bravest people I know, a coward? You’re a special kinda stupid aren’t ya? It’s certain folks in law enforcement who don’t have half the integrity my brother Sean has, that makes all others in this field look bad and that’s really sad and scary! Also not sure wtf your rex kwon do statement is all about, but as a martial artist myself, as well as someone who’s seen my brother fight in real life as well as teach, I highly doubt you have even half a ball to step in a ring “or” out in the street with him man-to-man! Perhaps you should reflect on whatever your core issues are and try to learn from your short-comings/deficiencies and re-think what your true problem is with my brother, because I’ve seen firsthand how all his life he’s gone out of his way to help people as well as do the right thing, therefore a smart person would seek to be his ally, whereas only dumbasses choose purposely to be his adversary! Clearly you do NOT know my brother as you think you do!

    Sean Allen is my brother.. he’s black and I’m white. I’m fully aware of his history.. he’s a great person, good martial artist and objectively honest. Having said that it should be noted that he’s filed harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaints against multiple managers within the Sheriff’s Office earlier this year.Hence the comments from Vic Mackey … obviously a manager based on the comments. So here’s one of Sean’s complaints against a not so competent manager at the Sheriff’s Office. I am speaking today as his representative.

    Lt. Adam Duran:

    We work in a system where within a few months of getting promoted,you can be the direct supervisor of the cops who unlawfully murder an inmate, admit you were aware there were problems with the main murderer, admit you moved him to an assignment free of inmates because of his problematic behavior, offer him no mentoring, no counseling or corrective action to positively impact his performance, reassign him to an area populated by inmates where he ultimately murdered a Mentally Disabled man (Michael Tyree).

    Only to get rewarded by a transfer off the line to supervised “Weekend Workers”!

    Shortly after you get reassigned to a specialized unit, supervising less than a dozen deputies. You brag about retiring if you’re not promoted, again. Call in for your “Mandatory Shifts” and or avoid working a team for several years when you were asked to help out where we were short staffed (everyone was aware of this). Then, get promoted months before your final year was up in the specialize unit.

    Then they send you to manage two teams of 85 people each, where you show up and contradict the senior supervisors of one team in front of the employees, participate in the attempt to remove the only Supervisor on the team with an extensive background in tactical situations, Enforcement (Patrol),criminal investigations, Training, and Human Resources/Union Matters from his responsibilities (ERT and the Training Sergeant) and give them to two probationary supervisors that don’t have half of his experience and have yet to complete the POST Supervisor School.

    All this in retaliation for complaints of harassment you failed to act on. In fact when it was brought to you, you responded,”I’m new to this and not involved”! Then you shun and talked down to the victim in the presence of his peers and acknowledged your actions not to him but to the others supervisors. Your behavior is nothing less than disgusting, retaliatory and discriminating.

    You’ve cost the County millions for your incompetent leadership skills with the Michael Tyree incident; yet the department rewards you by promoting you again (you weren’t the only one).Then you retaliate against an employee that complained of harassment, retaliation and discrimination.

    My response will be to let the world know how incompetent you are and how you will likely cost the tax payers more money. Who knows? It will likely get you promoted again and you can make some more YouTube videos!!

    So my complaint against you cannot be ignored… I’m letting everyone know here in front of our peers!

    Not surprisingly, the Sheriff’s Office has not addressed Sean’s complaints against you and the other managers at Elmwood. Just living proof of the corruption at the Sheriff’s Office. The law mandates that an Internal Affairs investigation is required and an individual-investigation number is attached to each complaint. But the Sheriff’s history with Internal Affairs complaints has a shady history. Get promoted and your protected as long as you don’t tell on your own.

    Truth be told. The Sheriff’s Office has a history of discrimination specifically with black people.

    The department’s Mission Statement should read…..

    “Always a suspect and never a victim. The story of a black man working for the Sheriff’s Office in Santa Clara County”!!

    P.S. I used my “real” name because I’m not a little coward! Additionally, maybe Vic and the like should realize you’re all on the same team and should be holding each other as well as yourselves to a higher set of standards like my brother does!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *