Vigil for OC Jail Inmate Deaths Sheds Light On Systemic Issue

A vigil and protest was held outside Theo Lacy Facility on Saturday. Photo by josephbeaird1229@gmail.com

It’s barely been two months since the death of Anthony Aceves and two more inmates, 44-year-old Eric Denton and 37-year-old Shikiira Kelly, also died in Orange County jails just last week. 

Last Saturday evening, a crowd gathered outside of the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange for a vigil to mourn their deaths and to raise awareness by protest, which was especially directed at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) jailers.

“I can’t even begin to articulate what I’m feeling,” said Diana Alvarez, the mother of the late Aceves. “I mean, I’m grieving my own son but I know how their parents feel.”

The frustrated crowd consisted mostly of friends and family of Aceves and community members who have attended the “Know Your Sheriff” workshop series put on by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California and the OC Racial Justice Collaborative.

The goal of the workshop is the educate the public about the role and power of a sheriff department’s operations. Many of those at the vigil plan to continue raising awareness attending future meetings. Their next meeting is this Thursday at 6 p.m.

Their motivations for coming out were made clear through the signs they held and the chants they shouted for all to hear. 

“Invest in caring! Not caging and killing!”

“What do we want? Accountability! When do we want it? Now!”

“OCSD can’t hide for long! When we unite our voice is strong!” 

Raising awareness, one sign at a time. Photo by josephbeaird1229@gmail.com

Huntington Beach resident Gianni Castellanos said he felt privileged to be able to use his voice to shed light on this issue.

“I’m lucky that I was able to escape from so many of the ways I was heavily marginalized,” he said, “and I don’t want anyone to be marginalized.” 

Arthur Alvarez, Aceves’ uncle, said he was humbled to continue having people he does not know rally in support of their family.

“This is a community at it’s best,” said Alvarez as he surveyed the scene. “They could be doing anything tonight but they’re here.”

Despite the vigil largely following recent events, it reflects upon nearly a decade of jail deaths, some of which remain mysterious.  According to a data request from the OCSD, 62 people have died in OC jails between January 2010 and June 2018. 

Later in the evening, people in attendance gathered in a circle to state why they came out, tell stories of Aceves and remember the lives lost by reading a list of names of all who have died in OC jails since 2010.

Remembering those lost. Photo by josephbeaird1229@gmail.com

Daisy Ramirez, OC Jails Policy and Conditions coordinator at the ACLU SoCal, has worked toward improving conditions in both LA and OC lockups. She said it should be within to best interests of the OCSD to ensure inmates access to the services that they need so they are released back into society properly.

Ramirez said one thing that stands out the most of is the unwillingness of Orange County’s Board of Supervisors to meet with the community.

“Until they realize how many of their constituents are coming together and demanding change and will not remain silent, hopefully then they’ll start paying attention to the work that we’re doing,” Ramirez said. 

Many in attendance said they believe the sheriff and coroner’s role needs to be broken up to bring about change. Currently, both offices are led by Sheriff Don Barnes.

Mike Tucker, who is a part of the OCRJC’s leadership team, said he hopes for a better oversight committee when there’s a death in jail.

“There’s a clear conflict of interest when the sheriff who’s responsible for those jails is also in charge of the investigation of the cause of death,” Tucker said. (Jail deaths are also investigated by the Orange County district attorney’s office.)

Above all else, people want answers. Diana Alvarez said bringing awareness to her son’s death through rallies and vigils is the only form of therapy she has.

Photo by josephbeaird1229@gmail.com

“I’m not just gonna sit at home and wait for that phone call that could take six months to a year,” she said. “How am I supposed to grieve without even knowing how my son died?” 

Alvarez added she will never be the same person she was two months ago and now plans on continuing to fight for all the people who don’t have a voice. 

Arthur Alvarez said he will continue to share his nephew Aceves’ story as a cautionary tale for families to check on their loved ones in jail, especially those with mental illnesses.

Joseph Beaird is an editorial intern for OC Weekly from Yorba Linda. He is a sophomore majoring in Journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

15 Replies to “Vigil for OC Jail Inmate Deaths Sheds Light On Systemic Issue”

  1. There are no reasons except personal profiteering from the public funding sending and isolating citizens for not violent crimes.

    The people with minor violations, disabled, with autism, confused, mentally challenged have been criminilized in order to fill out jails, mental wards, group homes, Development Centers for personal profiteering of employees of Public Departments and their cronies.

    1. What kind of question is that? They want to see inmates getting proper care while in custody and not dying mysteriously with no explanation. Accountability!

  2. I’m so glad they are finally shedding the light on OC jail system. My cousin shikiira Kelly was one of the innate that died in jail this week. She was suppose to come home last week. We have so many questions but no one seems to have answers.

  3. Our Family still have not gotten any information on my sisters death tomorrow will be one week since we talked to her sounding happy to come home to see her son and the rest of us. She was set to be released Friday July 19th but was supposedly found dead July 18th. We are crying out for answers and help

  4. Don’t wait for an answer that you’ll never get! Even if you did get one, (of how he died) I doubt it would be the truth. Do your own investigating! Find out who else was in jail with your son be at the time of his death. The inmates know what went down

  5. Shikiira Kelly was my lil cousin and I’m still at a loss for words about this whole situation because what they’re trying to convince the public that she took her own life, that wasn’t even in her character, part of her make-up nor was it in her spirit to do anything of the sort. I have a lot of opinions but I’ll refrain from speaking them, but I will say ” THE TRUTH SHALL PREVAIL” Not just for my cousin Shikiira Kelly, but for those others souls that were so wrongly taken….

  6. One thing needs to happen is to look at what the prison system benefits from the death of inmates? What person who’s going to be released from being locked up for 9yrs and never had yesterday be put on suicide watch would take they’re own life a few days from being released?

  7. My best friend was killed in Oc main jail back in 2006 or 2007 and his family never got answers as to how he died.

  8. My son was in for misdemeanor put him in hardcore criminals and gangs he was bullied and jumped almost left to die.. came out badly beaten. He needed surgery right away had a broken hand never was taken to emergency… never received proper medical care until family bailed him out. He was only there for about 17 days…

  9. My prayers and Condolences to all the families. This is so awful. 🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏 Prayers for Justice. The truth will come out sooner or later Inmates know what happened.

  10. Justice for Shikirra Kelly they murdered her and many more inmates I pray that someone comes forward lord convict there spirit there hearts and mind what happens in the dark will come to the light she was my friend we grew up together there is no way this should of happened the evidence speaks for itself she was Happy and Excited to be getting released and then boom she decides to kill herself Shikirra was a mother she was a friend she was daughter her life matters ..inmateslifesmatter my Deepest Condolences to all those affected by this tragedy the system has failed us once again orange county send Shikirra Kelly home..

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