San Diego County Seeks Reporter’s Notes in Jail Case

After reporter documented 60 deaths in San Diego County jails over five years, the county sought her notes, interviews and recordings to defend itself in a suit by the widow of a prisoner who committed suicide.

San Diego’s CityBeat reported that between 2007 and 2012, 60 inmates died in the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s five-jail detention system, nearly half in suicides, homicides and accidents. Prisoners kept dying, including a man who killed himself in yet anther suicide. His widow is suing. On the defensive, the county’s attorneys want one of the reporters who wrote the story to give up her notes, interviews and recordings, the Voice of San Diego reports.  So far, a judge has ruled in favor of reporter Kelly Davis, but the fight isn’t over.

San Diego’s jail death rate is the highest in the state. There were questions about several of the jail deaths, and at least 19 were preventable. Reporters Davis and Dave Maass said that officials had failed to provide full and accurate information to oversight agencies and family members. In 2014, a Marine named Kristopher Nesmith hung himself in a cell. His widow is suing the county, claiming the jail system didn’t protect Nesmith from himself despite multiple warning signs. The county demanded that Davis give testimony in a deposition and provide all the documents, notes and recordings that she used in her reporting about the county’s high jail mortality and suicide rates. It also demanded her communications with the widow’s attorneys regarding jail suicides. The county says it has the responsibility to determine whether the news stories were true. That means forcing Davis to show her work. A pro bono legal team is defending Davis, noting that state and federal law protects her rights to not be forced to give up “unpublished material.” A judge ruled against the county, which still could file an appeal.