A 73-year-old Vista man who had been in jail since 2020 died Friday, less than two weeks after being admitted with pneumonia complications from COVID-19, sheriff’s officials said.
Rafael Ruiz was arrested in September 2020 and faced 31 charges of child abuse, including aggravated sexual abuse of a child and sexual penetration of a child under 10 years of age.
While in custody, he was placed in the San Diego Central Jail so he could receive “specialized support for a long-term medical condition,” sheriff’s lieutenant Thomas Seiver said in a news release Saturday.
On January 31, Ruiz was hospitalized with respiratory complications associated with pneumonia from COVID-19, Seiver said.
Ruiz’s health deteriorated. On Friday, with the approval of a judge in the San Diego Superior Court, the Sheriff’s Department issued a compassionate release for him. Such releases allow an inmate’s family to say goodbye and also to make medical decisions.
Those deputies were still in the hospital when doctors removed Ruiz from lifesaving, Seiver said. He died shortly after.
Seiver is affiliated with the department’s homicide unit, which is investigating all custody deaths in the seven county jails run by the Sheriff’s Department.
As had been the case elsewhere in the region, COVID-19 cases increased in prisons in January. On January 21, the Sheriff’s Department reported that 350 inmates had recently been tested positive for the virus. From last week, the number of infected prisoners had dropped to 85, just under 2 percent of the prison population.
Since March 2020, two county prisoners have died after receiving COVID.
Ruiz is the second local jailer to die while in custody this year for some reason, not just COVID. On Thursday, 63-year-old inmate Doyle Nyles Marler died of an unspecified fatal disease.
Last year, 18 San Diego County inmates died in custody. Over the past 15 years, 185 prisoners have died in local prisons.
Last week California State Auditor released a burning report that San Diego County jails are so deficient in providing adequate medical and mental health care to inmates that state legislators should intervene to force change.
The Sheriff’s Department has pushed back and rejected several of the findings and the method used in the audit.