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Man deemed incompetent for trial dies in Pima jail, reportedly after 'eating feces'

Man deemed incompetent for trial dies in Pima jail, reportedly after 'eating feces'

Jail sources say man was consuming waste, Sheriff's Dep't says he was 'not eating'

  • Protesters outside the Pima County Jail in February 2022.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comProtesters outside the Pima County Jail in February 2022.

A 26-year-old Tucson man, Yunan Mohammed Altib Tutu, being held at the Pima County Jail pending restoration to "competency" to stand trial, was found dead Tuesday by a doctor after guards reported he was not eating.

Criminal justice system sources with information about the incident told the Sentinel that Tutu appeared mentally ill and had been "eating feces for a couple of months."

Tutu is the 50th person to die in jail custody since 2017. Sheriff Chris Nanos has said that the facility is in a "full-blown crisis" at a "life-threatening level" due to overcrowding and under-staffing.

Since 2017, 49 other people have died while in custody at the Pima County jail, according to a memo sent to the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 27.

Tutu was booked in to the jail on July 10, 2022, on charges of 3rd degree burglary and theft, following an earlier charge of 1st degree criminal trespassing, and was being held after he was determined to be unable to understand the proceedings against him. The court ordered in October that Tutu "receive any treatment necessary to restore" his competency to stand trial. The Pima County Restoration to Competency Program is meant to treat mentally ill defendants so they are able to understand the criminal charges against them. Tutu's case was set for a review hearing on Feb. 15.

Tutu, who is referred to as Yunan Mohammed Altibe Tutu and Yunan Mohammed Altibeig Tutu in some court records, was an Arabic speaker, court documents indicate, with a hearing delayed because an interpreter could not be located. Other documents indicate that he did not require an interpreter, such as a 2020 ticket for being at the Gates Pass overlook too late at night.

Pima County officials said that Tutu was found around 9:25 a.m. when a "a doctor responded to a housing unit within the Pima County Adult Detention Complex to do a follow-up on an inmate after corrections officers had reported the inmate was not eating."

"Upon the doctor being escorted to the cell, the inmate was located unresponsive. The doctor entered the cell with the assistance of corrections officers and pronounced the inmate deceased," Deputy Marissa Hernandez of the Pima County Sheriff's Department said in a Tuesday night news release.

"Detectives from the Criminal Investigations Division responded to the jail and found no signs of trauma and no suspicious circumstances," Hernandez said. "At this time the cause of death is unknown. Efforts are being made to make that determination."

The Tucson Sentinel requested the results of the Medical Examiner's report on Tutu. Such autopsy reports generally take weeks to be prepared and released.

Prior to PCSD's press release identifying Tutu, sources in the criminal justice system informed the Sentinel that there had been another death at the jail Tuesday morning, and that "the man who died was mentally ill and was smearing and eating feces for a couple of months."

Jail staff had seemingly not "had much contact with him because of his mental state and hygiene," one source with information about the incident conveyed to the Sentinel.

Deputy Hernandez disputed that Wednesday, saying that "your 'source' is inaccurate, specifically about Mr. Tutu eating feces. There is no indication that such behavior occurred."

Tutu's public defender could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

'Full-blown crisis'

Nanos wrote in a Dec. 5 memo to the county board the jail has gone from critical state to a “full-blown crisis” because of how full it is.

Because the jail has reached 92% of its operational capacity, nearly 100 inmates are sleeping on the floor at the jail, Nanos wrote in the memo. The jail needs to remain below 85% capacity, and the current inmate population is at “a life-threatening level,” Nanos wrote, pushing for funding for a new jail.

The number of corrections officers at the jail also decreased by 30% in 2022, Nanos wrote, which has embolden inmates against officers. On Dec. 1, a correction officer with three months on the job was strangled until she was unconscious, Nanos wrote. A week before that, correction officers had to negotiate with 90 inmates who refused to stay in their cells. 

In November 2022 alone, two men committed suicide at the jail in less than a week, apparently strangling themselves in their cells, authorities said.

In his memo, Naos made no mention of the nine deaths in the jail in 2022 nor the 10 inmate deaths in 2021, however, which was noticed by families of inmates. Many of the family members who were present at a Dec. 20 Board of Supervisors meeting to express their frustrations with the lack of action and attention on jail deaths have made the same points at protests as members of the No Jail Deaths coalition.

Rosanne Inzunza, the mother of 18-year-old Sylvestre Inzunza, who died after five days in the Pima County jail last February, spoke in front of the county board during their call to the audience, saying that she was upset that the deaths were not mentioned.

“What upset me was that nobody talked about the deaths that already happened that have nothing to do with the facility or the budget,” Inzunza said.

Inzunza said that the deaths at the jail need a “full analysis.” Choked with tears, she asked the board “Has an analysis been done? If so, what has been corrected to fix the death issues, and why are the deaths keep on happening?”

“The high number of deaths in the Pima County jail” were caused by “broken promises and procedures, and that includes health care, overcrowding and the fact that many people who are incarcerated suffer from mental health issues or addiction,” she said.

Frances Guzman, the mother of Cruz Patino Jr., a 22-year-old who died while an inmate at the jail in August 2021, pointed out the jail had “more passings in there than on death row” when she spoke in front of the supervisors.

“Innocent until proven guilty is how it’s supposed to be, but my son didn’t get that chance,” Guzman said through tears.

‘Do we need a new jail?’

On Dec. 6, Nanos spoke in front of the Board of Supervisors to ask for better pay for the corrections officers as well as funding for a new jail facility.

The Adult Detention Complex “in its current condition, is not just unlivable for our inmates, but for me, it’s a disgusting place to work.” Nanos said that the deteriorating jail makes the job of a correction officer much more difficult.

“The flooding, the mold, the deterioration of the facility and the infrastructure itself is irreparable,” he said on Dec. 6. “We could throw millions of dollars at it, all in one, every day. It’s not going to get better.”

“Even in its most pristine condition, it's a tough job,” he told the board. “Now it’s in a condition that is just horrible, untenable, and I have staff that show up there every day.”

Billy Peard, the lawyer representing family members who have died in the jail, told the board that he agrees the jail is in a “full-blown crisis” but said that the request by Nanos for a new jail facility would do nothing.

“That is not the issue and that has not been the issue resulting in recent deaths and other mishaps in the jail,” Peard said. “Do we need a new jail? Absolutely not.”

Although Nanos noted that the jail is more than 40-years old, Peard contested “in the scope of detention facilities and prison facilities, it’s not that old.”

Tha jail has an average of 1,900 inmates a night, Peard said, but the facility’s square-footage should allow it to handle 2,300 inmates at a time. Peard also pointed out that during the past eight years, the jail had as many as 2,100 inmates at one time.

Instead of a new jail, Peard said the county needs more corrections officers, better training and acculturation, or to “create a better culture among the staff, among the sergeants, among the supervisors in that facility.”

Sharon Bronson, chair of the Board of Supervisors, was the only member of the board to directly address the jail deaths and ask why it’s a problem. She agreed with Peard that the issue may start with the culture among corrections officers in the jail.

“Why do we have all these jails deaths and what is the culture inside the jail with corrections officers?” Bronson said. “We’ve never had this problem, not to the extent that exists today, so how did we get here?”

Bronson was doubtful that staffing alone was the cause of the issue, saying “I can’t believe the issue is that we don’t have enough corrections officers. I think it’s something about the internal culture as well.”

Tucson Sentinel’s Paul Ingram and Bennito L. Kelty contributed background to this report.

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