Inmate Jarray Birdon, 38, Died After Fight At High Desert State Prison Near Susanville

pexels-pixabay-236380SUSANVILLE, CALIFORNIA (June 11, 2024) – A 38-year-old man identified as Jarray Birdon has tragically died after being shot with a 40 mm ‘less-lethal’ round during a fight at the High Desert State Prison.

Lassen County officials are saying that the incident took place around 7:18 a.m. on June 5. Correctional officers noticed that Jarray Birdon was being attacked by another inmate.

The officers gave verbal commands for the fight to be stopped. But those orders were ignored. Staff then used chemical agents and a 40-mm ‘less-lethal’ round.

The fight was eventually stopped, and medical staff were called to the scene. During the course of the altercation, jail staff realized that Jarray Birdon had injuries consistent with being hit in the head with a 40-mm round.

The victim was transported to an outside hospital, where he was pronounced dead two days later. A full investigation into the incident remains ongoing at this time.

Liability For Inmate Deaths At High Desert State Prison

So-called ‘less-lethal’ rounds and weapons are actually much more deadly than the name would suggest. According to one report by PBS, “An investigation found that between 2012 and 2021, more than 1,000 people died after police used physical force that’s considered non-lethal. That includes batons, stun guns, physical restraints and chemical agents. Only 28 of the officers involved faced criminal charges.” There are a number of ways that misuse of 40-mm rounds can result in deaths.

  • Head and Neck Trauma: Less lethal 40mm rounds that hit a person’s head and neck can cause severe trauma and death. In general, officers are supposed to aim center-of-mass and away from a person’s head.
  • Shooting Proximity: Less lethal 40mm rounds can become extremely dangerous if they are shot at very close distances. Generally speaking, these weapons have a minimum safe distance of 16 feet.
  • Improper Use: Less lethal 40mm rounds can be deadly even under ideal circumstances and should only be used as a measure of last resort. Correctional officers should not shoot suspects who are already subdued.

Depending on the facts of any case, there could be numerous sources of liability for inmate deaths. Jails have a legal obligation to protect inmates from reasonably foreseeable sources of harm, including attacks at the hands of other inmates. When a jail shows deliberate indifference to the well-being of an inmate at risk, this could form the basis of a constitutional claim. Consider, for example, Pierson v. Hartley. In that case, jail staff allowed an inmate with a known violent history to roam an open-space dormitory. He then attacked and seriously injured another inmate.

A jail could also be liable for the use of excessive force by its officers. Pursuant to 42 U.S. Code § 1983, every person who, under the color of any statute, law or ordinance, causes a citizen of the United States to be deprived of their rights secured by the constitution, shall be liable to the injured party in an action at law. Whether or not any use of force could be considered excessive will depend in part on the actions of the officers leading up to the encounter. There are a number of steps that should be taken after any in custody death.

  • Medical records related to the death should be preserved.
  • An independent autopsy may need to be performed.
  • Eyewitnesses should be interviewed.
  • Surveillance footage should be sought.

When an inmate dies in custody, jails will often do everything in their power to deny responsibility. But the fact of the matter is that inmate deaths due to homicide are nearly always preventable. This is also true for deaths where correctional officers use excessive force. The officers involved are often poorly trained. It is important for the family members of inmates who die to understand that they do have rights. The family of any inmate who died in custody may be able to seek some measure of justice through a constitutional claim.

Investigating Inmate Deaths At High Desert State Prison

We at the Sehat Law Firm extend our deepest condolences to the family of Jarray Birdon. Any person who may have more information about what happened should reach out to investigators. There needs to be some accountability for the sake of the victim’s family.

Do you need more information about an inmate death at the High Desert State Prison? Our team of civil rights attorneys is here to answer any questions that you may have. We care deeply that inmates are aware of their rights and that jails are held accountable for their unconstitutional actions. Whether you just have legal questions or need a free, independent investigation into any incident, we are here for you. You can reach out to us anytime at (949) 825-5200.


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