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Family of CYA Inmate Who Died in Custody Seeks Answers

The unexplained death of a 24-year-old man brings calls for a thorough investigation.

September 09, 2004|Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — The family of a 24-year-old man who died last weekend in his California Youth Authority cell called Wednesday for the immediate release of all investigative reports on the death, saying it appeared to be suspicious and needed to be explained.

The body of Dyron Brewer of Berkeley was found during a routine bed check at 3:34 a.m. Sunday at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton, according to the CYA. He was the fourth CYA inmate to die in custody this year.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff's office said an autopsy revealed no preliminary cause of death and that toxicology and tissue tests would take several weeks to complete.

"There were no obvious signs of foul play ... or suicide," said Deputy Nellie Stone.

Family members said Brewer had no history of medical problems or drug abuse.

"He was in very good health," Twanisha Brewer, one of the dead man's seven siblings, said in a telephone interview. "It's devastating."

Brewer was first sent to the CYA on a robbery conviction in 1995 and stayed seven years. After his parole in 2002, he received permission to move to Washington, where family members say he worked doing home repair.

CYA spokeswoman Sarah Ludeman said Brewer was returned to the CYA on Aug. 3 as a parole violator, but she did not know what the violation involved. Wards can be placed in CYA up to age 25.

Ludeman declined to speculate on what may have caused his death, which occurred in the cell he shared with another inmate.

Brewer's family was joined by leaders of Books Not Bars, a group that represents about 200 families with incarcerated children, in demanding to know what happened to Brewer.

"We don't understand how this young man ... could go to sleep and not wake up," said Lenore Anderson, director of the organization. "We want answers and we want them now."

Anderson said the combination of the unknown circumstances of Brewer's death and the track record of the CYA heightened suspicions and the need for a thorough investigation.

In January, two teenage cellmates were found hanging by bedsheets in a CYA facility at Ione, an hour east of Sacramento. Another ward died that month after ingesting a poison at Chaderjian. In April, a videotape showed counselors punching and kicking two wards at Chaderjian.

A series of state reports have since depicted the youth correctional system as being rife with violence and failing to provide adequate educational and healthcare services.

The Prison Law Office in Marin County has filed a lawsuit over conditions in the CYA and is now in settlement talks with the Schwarzenegger administration.

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