‘The system took my brother’: Family demands answers to death in Los Angeles prison | Los Angeles

ByShannon J. Cortes

Jan 13, 2022

Jhe family of Jalani Lovett, a 27-year-old man who died in a Los Angeles jail last year, is calling for the county sheriff’s department to be held accountable and for authorities to release more information about the final moments of his life .

Lovett died in solitary confinement at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles on September 22. The county coroner released an autopsy report Tuesday saying Lovett’s death was “accidental” and that he had fentanyl and heroin in his system.

But Lovett’s mother and siblings, who have been battling for months to get basic information from authorities about what led to his death, are left with major questions about the case.. If Lovett died of an overdose, how did he get access to fentanyl while he was in solitary? What were the actions of the guards on duty that night, in a prison with a history of abuse? And why did it take so long for the coroner to produce the autopsy report, which the county sent to a reporter this week before the family got it?

“I’m a grieving mother, but I’m also an angry mother,” Terry Lovett, 65, told The Guardian this week in an interview from her home in Oakland. She said the sheriff’s department, which runs the jail, repeatedly ignored her family’s requests for a response: “They have no respect for human life.”

Central Men’s Jail has hosted a long history of scandals, including evidence of widespread abuse. Photography: Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

“I want the truth to come out,” she added. “For me it was murder. They killed my son.

Christian Contreras, a local civil rights attorney, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the county on behalf of the family, the first step in a lawsuit, alleging ‘negligence causing wrongful death’, ‘willful indifference’ in violation of the 14th Amendment, “inhumane murder” and more.

A long wait for answers: ‘What are they hiding?’

Jalani Lovett, one of six siblings, grew up in East Oakland. He excelled at basketball and baseball as a teenager and won a poetry medal in school, his mother said. He was an aspiring rapper and a family man close to his nephews and nieces.

He ended up in Men’s Central prison in September 2019 on a second-degree robbery charge, and his mother said he had been held in solitary confinement in the months before his death. A spokesman for the sheriff told the Guardian he was in a “one-man cell” and was not there for disciplinary reasons.

Terry Lovett said a detective from the Sheriff’s Office Homicide informed her on the morning of September 23 that her son “was found dead” in his cell at 10 p.m. the previous night. The official added that authorities found “drug paraphernalia” in her son’s cell, she recalled, but said the investigation was ongoing.

The family received little information from officials in the following weeks, they said. An investigator first told Terry it could take him eight months to get an official report, she recalls.

Jalani Lovett posing
Jalani Lovett was one of six siblings and grew up in Oakland, California. Photo: Courtesy of the family

About a month after the death, the family obtained photos from the coroner’s office showing Jalani’s body shortly after his death, which they said showed signs of bruises and other possible injuries.

A long history of scandals at the Men’s Central Jail has fueled their concerns, with controversies such as corruption and obstruction of court cases and documented evidence of widespread abuse of those incarcerated. Jalani was housed in a section of the prison, Block 3000, where guards have long been accused of being part of a “gang of deputies” called the 3000 Boys, known for allegedly using excessive force.

Vanessa Carter, one of Jalani’s sisters, said she spoke with her brother hours before his death and overheard him arguing with a guard, which also made the family suspicious. Combined with the photos and the lack of information, the family asked if the guards beat Jalani.

Jalani’s official death certificate, issued a month after his death, listed his cause of death as ‘deferred’, meaning the medical examiner’s investigation was ongoing. He also listed the time of death as four hours earlier than what Terry was originally told, according to his records.

The coroner’s report, released this week, noted he had a bruise on his neck and abrasions on his arms, but said there were “no external trauma” or “life-threatening injuries”. The report says deputies found him unconscious in his cell and released him from Narcan and CPR.

Sheriff’s Department Lt. Brandon Dean told the Guardian there was no sign Jalani had any altercation with guards and that there was “nothing out of the ordinary” in his death. He declined to answer questions about how Jalani could have accessed fentanyl. Asked about the 3000 Boys, Dean declined to comment, saying it was irrelevant to the case.

The coroner’s report says the autopsy was performed on September 28, a week after Jalani’s death.

Contreras said he filed a request for recording in November, asking for images, reports and the identities of the deputies involved, but received no response. The coroner’s office sent the Guardian a copy of the autopsy on Tuesday before the lawyer or Terry Lovett had seen it.

The family said they were skeptical of the coroner’s report. “There are too many inconsistencies. What is hidden? Lovett said after receiving the report. She said she planned to have the records reviewed by an independent medical examiner.

“I don’t want it to happen to others”

Contreras lamented the lack of transparency in the case, which he said was common in prison deaths: “When a person in their own custody dies in highly suspicious circumstances, instead of meeting the family and providing answers, the sheriff’s department further advances the secrecy. ”

Carter, Jalani’s sister, said she believed MPs should face charges over her brother’s death: “They’re supposed to ‘protect and serve’ and care for people. We should not be afraid of them and they should be responsible for their actions, just as we are for ours. She added that she wanted her brother to be remembered as a faithful family man who taught his now 14-year-old son to walk and play basketball.

Jalani Carter leans on the fireplace
Vanessa Carter said she wants her brother to be remembered as a family man who taught his son to walk. Photo: Courtesy of the family

Ladell Dickerson, Jalani’s older brother, said whatever the cause of death, the county was to blame: “It’s negligence. He was in their care. He was under the authority of the sheriff. He wasn’t in prison with a death sentence, but someone in that prison killed him or left him to die.

At a protest outside the prison on what would have been Jalani’s 28th birthday this week, fellow sister Michelle Lovett wished her brother a happy birthday, adding: ‘The system took my brother, but they won’t take our right to know the truth.”

Terry Lovett also filed a complaint with the Inspector General’s office in November, but received no response. She said she was not convinced she would get justice for her son in Los Angeles County, but would continue to fight. She said she now spends most of her days trying to get information about the case: ‘I know I can’t bring my son back, but I want to stop this happening to the child from someone else.”

On Terry’s last call with her son, Jalani was in good spirits, she said. He heard that he would soon be transferred to a state prison to complete his sentence. He was looking forward to leaving prison, she said, and getting a little closer to returning home.