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OC jail inmate found unresponsive in cell, pronounced dead at hospital

SANTA ANA — A 44-year-old inmate found unresponsive Monday in his cell at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead about an hour after arrival, sheriff’s officials said.

Deputies were called to assist the inmate, who had “no obvious signs of trauma on his body,” about 8:20 a.m., according to Carrie Braun of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

An autopsy will be conducted and a cause of death determined after toxicology results are received, which typically takes six to eight weeks, she said.

The inmate, whose name was withheld pending family notification, was ordered to begin a jail sentence on July 10 on drug-related charges dating to 2017 and checked himself in then, according to the sheriff’s department.

The case will be investigated by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, and an in-custody death review will be completed by the sheriff’s department.

Sheriff’s officials have a new policy of issuing public announcements of in-custody deaths when they are “unexpected” rather than due to a terminal illness.

The move came in the wake of controversy over the death of 37-year-old Theo Lacy inmate Anthony Aceves in May. His family filed a claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — and have held protests demanding answers.

Officials have said there were no obvious signs as to what caused Aceves’ death, with a determination pending the results of toxicology tests.

“The decision to release this information is for increased public transparency, and should not be misconstrued,” Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Don Barnes said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “We take seriously the charge to provide for the inmates in our custody. Inmate deaths are not common, but in an institution that houses more than 5,000 people on a 24/7 basis, they can occur. A full investigation is completed to determine if there are any opportunities for increasing the safety and security of our jails.”

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