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Yusef Miller, executive director of the North County Equity and Justice Coalition, led a rally regarding in-custody deaths on March 7 in front the Vista Detention Facility. Photo by Joe Orellana
Yusef Miller, executive director of the North County Equity and Justice Coalition, led a rally regarding in-custody deaths on March 7 in front of the Vista Detention Facility. Photo by Joe Orellana
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Sheriff’s fourth in-custody death this year under investigation

VISTA — Community members are pushing for more details after a man died while in the custody of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department earlier this month — the fourth in-custody death to occur this year. 

The individual, confirmed Tuesday to be 29-year-old Abdul Kamara, was reportedly taken into San Diego County Sheriff’s custody just before midnight on March 2 in Cardiff by the Sea.

Kamara died just hours later, at 4 a.m., before he could be booked into the Vista Detention Center after being placed in a WRAP restraint and experiencing a medical emergency, according to law enforcement. 

The San Diego Police Department announced on March 3 that its homicide unit will investigate the death, along with the Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), as required under a countywide Memorandum of Understanding. 

In response to the news, members of the North County Equity and Justice Coalition rallied outside of the Vista Detention Center on March 7 to demand transparency about how the Sheriff’s Department handled the situation.  

“This person barely even made it to the station when they lost their life,” said Yusef Miller, executive director of the North County Equity and Justice Coalition. “We want to know, if all the proper procedures had been followed, would this person still be with us today? Would their loved ones still have this person? We don’t know exactly what happened, but the community and the families want transparency.” 

Miller and others said they specifically wanted to know whether this situation was treated as a potential mental health crisis and why a mental health professional was not called to assist in responding. 

Sheriff’s officials contacted Kamara on March 2 after receiving reports about a suspicious person in the 800 block of Birmingham Drive in the Cardiff neighborhood of Encinitas, according to the San Diego Police Department. The reporting party said he was not wearing a shirt or shoes and was crawling around a parking lot. 

Yusef Miller of the North County Equity and Justice Coalition leads a rally at the Vista Detention Center on March 7 following the in-custody death of 29-year-old Abdul Kamara on March 2. Photo by Joe Orellana
Yusef Miller of the North County Equity and Justice Coalition leads a rally at the Vista Detention Center on March 7 following the in-custody death of 29-year-old Abdul Kamara on March 2. Photo by Joe Orellana

Upon their arrival, deputies Alejandro Aguilera and Tyler Phillips placed him under arrest on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance. He was transported to the Vista Detention Center, and before being booked into jail, he began throwing himself against the interior of the patrol car, injuring his face and moving the handcuffs to the front of his body, SDPD said. 

Deputies contacted paramedics and moved Kamara outside of the car onto a bench, where he soon began kicking and flailing. At this time, deputies called for additional assistance and placed him into a WRAP restraint device, according to SDPD. 

Kamara began experiencing a medical emergency after paramedics arrived, losing consciousness and ceasing to breathe. Despite paramedics performing lifesaving measures and transferring him to a hospital, he did not survive.

The officers who took part in efforts to get Kamara under control at the jail were identified Tuesday as deputies Carlos Heard, Derrick Jones and Travis Kaapke, and Cpl. Christopher Aberle.

Earlier that same day, Kamara had been along Carlsbad Village Drive and asked someone to call an ambulance for him. Paramedics arrived and took him to Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas for an evaluation, according to SDPD Lt. Judd Campbell.

However, a short time later, hospital staff informed the Sheriff’s Department that Kamara had left the hospital without being released. Campbell said deputies were unable to find him at that time.

This marks the second death of someone in San Diego County Sheriff’s custody after being put into a WRAP device. Intended to protect law enforcement and maintain the person’s ability to breathe, the WRAP binds the legs and ankles and connects to a harness over the torso, keeping the person in an upright seated position with their legs out in front of them and their hands behind their back.

A promotional photo depicting The WRAP, a law enforcement safety restraint used nationwide that recently has raised concerns over its potential to cause detainees injury or even death. Courtesy photo/Safe Restraints, Inc.
A promotional photo depicting The WRAP, a law enforcement safety restraint used nationwide that recently has raised concerns over its potential to cause detainees injury or even death while in custody. Courtesy photo/Safe Restraints, Inc.

In 2018, 40-year-old Earl McNeil also ceased breathing after being placed in a WRAP by police officers in National City, dying two weeks later in a hospital. National City settled with McNeil’s family for $300,000 in 2021, and the District Attorney’s office declined to file any charges against officers.   

McNeil’s demise drew community scrutiny over the use of the restraining device, and these concerns are echoing once again in the wake of Kamara’s death. 

“The Earl McNeil case is eerily similar to this case that happened on Sunday,” Miller said at the March 7 rally. 

For community members with loved ones in custody, the most recent incident is a reminder that they may not be safe in local jails. 

Paloma Serna, whose daughter Elisa Serna died in San Diego County jail in 2019, also spoke at the rally in demand of transparency. Sernas’s family has alleged that she died due to negligence by medical staff and that they ignored her signs of substance withdrawal, including vomiting and seizures.  

“It could be anyone’s loved one. Drugs and alcohol do not discriminate. We’re asking for accountability,” Paloma Serna said. 

It has not been confirmed whether Kamara, who died on March 2, was under the influence of substances. 

SDPD will share its investigation findings with the DA’s office, which will decide whether to charge any of the officers involved. CLERB will also form recommendations after reviewing the incident, which San Diego County Sheriff Kelly Martinez is not required to adopt. 

CLERB did not respond to a request for comment. 

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