Mentally Ill Man Killed For Illegal Squatting Has Been Murdered In Santa Rita Prison, Allegedly Killed By Cellmate

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Just three days after being admitted to the Santa Rita prison, an El Cerrito man suffering from schizophrenia was killed, allegedly by his cellmate, in what is becoming another lawsuit against the often troubled correctional facility.

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KTVU had the story on Monday about a man who broke into a house in Piedmont on Grand Avenue and squatted there for two days just after Labor Day weekend, consuming approximately $1,000 worth of food and alcohol, and generally leaving a mess of things. 39-year-old Yuri Brand was quickly arrested, charged with burglary and trespassing, and hauled off to Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail on Monday.

But he was only there three days before he was killed in his cell, according to KTVU, with the sheriff’s office saying that his cellmate committed the murder. The Bay Area News Group reports that cellmate was 33-year-old Bryson Levy, who had only been in the Santa Rita jail for 17 hours before this incident. Both were admitted to housing unit 9 of the facility, an area intended for people with mental illnesses. Brand was found seriously injured in some way at 12.23pm on Wednesday and was pronounced dead at 1.15pm

That’s about all the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office is saying right now. No cause of death, no motive, and no explanation of how this happened has been provided. Now Brand’s family wants answers, and they have a lawyer.

Brand’s mother, Erica Edgerly of Oakland, recalls the phone call she received from a sheriff’s deputy nearly 24 hours after the incident occurred. “Your son is dead,” Edgerly tells KTVU the deputy told her. “I said, ‘Where?’ Where is his body?’ He said: ‘I cannot tell you that it is an ongoing investigation.

Yuri Brand reportedly suffered from schizophrenia after a traumatic head injury he suffered in high school, and his family said he has been in and out of prison ever since. Just before the squatting arrest in Piedmont, he had been released from a jail in San Luis Obispo, and given nothing but $200 to board an Amtrak train, and no proper medication other than ibuprofen, per KTVU. It is not surprising that he immediately turned to crime again to survive.

Moreover, after his misdemeanor arrest, Brand refused to attend his hearing. Brand’s civil rights attorney says this should have been a red flag, plus Santa Rita Jail didn’t even list Brand after the incident.

“They’re told he didn’t make it to court because he refused and then when you try to follow up, they tell you he may have left the Santa Rita jail,” attorney Adante Pointer told NBC Bay Area. “But they don’t tell you he left Santa Rita Prison in a body bag. That’s a problem. We have to do better.”

Santa Rita Jail has certainly had its problems over the years, and KTVU adds that Brand is the 68th inmate to die there in less than ten years. There may be some shared responsibility with the San Luis Obispo jail simply letting a mentally ill man out with no resources or wherewithal. But either way, it looks like this is headed in the direction of a civil lawsuit that will point fingers at one or more correctional facilities.

Related: Man jailed for not wearing a mask dies in custody, family sues Alameda County (SFist)

Image: Jesstess87 via Wikimedia Commons


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