Body cam footage in Santa Rita jail undercuts deputies' claims about 20-year-old inmate's death

Alameda County Sheriff's Lt. Crag Cedergren (left) looks on as Christian Madrigal, 20, of Fremont wears a spit mask at Santa Rita Jail. June 10, 2019

Alameda County has released body camera videos from inside Santa Rita Jail that show some of the final moments of a 20-year-old Fremont man, who was left chained to a cell door for about three hours before he hung himself last year. 

The videos, released on Friday as part of a federal wrongful death suit, appear to contradict the sheriff’s narrative that Christian Madrigal was violent and needed to be restrained when he was taken to Santa Rita on June 10, 2019.

While Madrigal might have clenched, stiffened his body, and tensed up on that day, the video shows no visual evidence of him thrashing, kicking, punching, spitting or being violent in any way, after a careful review of the footage.

WARNING GRAPHIC VIDEO: Body cam shows 20-year-old chained to cell door

Police reports state that Madrigal had been acting aggressively days before with his family and during an incident in San Jose. 

But throughout the 1 hour and 49 minutes of video provided, Madrigal is constrained in a WRAP, which is similar to a straight jacket, and wears a spit mask over his face. Madrigal’s head is down and he walks slowly. He is also seen lying down in much of the footage. Madrigal, who was six feet tall and weighed 132 pounds, was always surrounded by 10 to 12 deputies.

Deputies take Christian's Madrigal in the jail intake room

“The videotape shows that the deputies exaggerated what he was doing,” said Adante Pointer, a civil rights attorney in Oakland representing the Madrigal family. “And they exaggerated what he was doing to justify their force. This is why videotapes and body cameras are so important. Just because you say it’s so doesn’t make it so.” 

There is no evidence shown in the videos that any de-escalation techniques were used, or that any deputies trained in crisis intervention tried to talk to Madrigal or any alternatives other than restraints, chains and leg irons were used to make him obey with commands. One deputy speaks Spanish to Madrigal in a kind tone, explaining that they need him to put his hands through the jail door to be cuffed. And at intake, the video shows that nurses conducted a quick heart rate and vitals sign check.

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KTVU obtained the videos on Friday, the same day Alameda County supervisors formally voted on giving Sheriff Greg Ahern an additional $106 million a year, for more deputies and mental health counselors.  

“Christian Madrigal looked, frankly, most of the time, like he was in a stupor," Pointer said. "He was chained to a door and was essentially handed the rope in which to kill himself.” 

A sheriff’s spokesman did not immediately respond for comment upon the release of the videos. 

But the sheriff’s point of view is well-documented in reports obtained by KTVU earlier this month. 

Deputies described Madrigal as being “resistive” and “uncooperative.” They cited that he was on mushrooms. One sergeant said he didn’t think they could get Madrigal out of his restraints “without a fight.”

The footage is taken from the vantage point of two deputies, Tiffany Ross and Marco Torres, who spoke to Madrigal in Spanish; Sgt. J. Graham and Lt. Craig Cedergren, the supervisor who decided to chain Madrigal to the R-1 cell door in the intake area of the jail.

Cedergren also wrote in his report that he felt it was “inappropriate” to put Madrigal in a restraint chair, and that chaining him to a door was the better alternative. 

No video was made public from the vantage point of five deputies who were inside Madrigal’s cell with him in the beginning and who were the most involved in trying to get him out of his restraints.

The video provided from Cedergren’s body camera lasts about eight minutes and starts just after Madrigal is found slumped inside the cell door. 

Fremont 20-year-old chained to Santa Rita Jail door with leg irons, cuffs: coroner's report

Lt. Craig Cedergren oversees chaining Christian Madrigal to the R-1 door at Santa Rita. June 10, 2019

Cedergren could not be reached for comment. According to the Sheriff’s Office, he has been on leave since Madrigal’s death on June 15, 2019.

Last week, the Alameda County District Attorney issued a report clearing Cedergren along with anyone else in the sheriff’s department from any criminal wrongdoing.

It is unclear what his job status will be now that the DA’s investigation is over. KTVU has repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought his personnel file following Madrigal’s death.

Madrigal's parents, Jose Jaime and Gabriela Covarrubias, had called Fremont police earlier that day seeking medical care, perhaps a psychiatric hold, for their son. Madrigal had no criminal record. 

The young man had experimented with mushrooms two weeks prior and had acted erratically and aggressively since that time, according to police reports and interviews. His parents had taken him to a hospital but were sent home with no conclusive diagnosis. His parents thought a 51-50 hold might be the best thing for them.  They now sorely regret doing that. 

“Since all this happened, I can never finish telling you how we feel about losing him,” Jaime said in an interview last fall. “I thought we were doing the right thing by calling police. I thought, ‘Everything will be OK.’ I told my two other boys, ‘Nothing bad will happen.’ We called the police for help. I can’t tell you how guilty we feel now.”

Fremont father will forever feel guilty for calling police to help his son

Jose Jaime holds a picture of his stepson, Christian Madrigal. November 2019

Madrigal’s death occurred nearly a year before George Floyd was killed by a white officer kneeling on his neck, and the ensuing protests and calls to reimagine a better criminal justice system, especially for people of color. Madrigal was Mexican.

Pointer said that he sees many parallels between Floyd’s death and Madrigal’s, and for that matter, for most Black and brown people in this country.

“You don’t have to travel to Minnesota, Minneapolis to see people abused,” he said. “This is happening right here in our own community. “

KTVU reviewed all the videos provided by Alameda County observing what happened in the moments from when Madrigal arrived at the jail about 2:15 p.m. until he was found hanging from his door about 5:30 p.m. 

The videos begin by showing Madrigal arriving from Fremont to Santa Rita, where he is still wearing a WRAP and a spit mask. He is taken out of the car. His head is down, and he is seen walking slowly. He barely speaks. 

Christian Madrigal, who weighed 132 pounds, was constrained in a WRAP until he was chained to a cell door at Santa Rita. June 10, 2019

By all accounts, Madrigal was not even supposed to be in jail for very long. The deputies even tell him he’s going to be a “cite,” as in "cite and release." He was there just to wait out his apparent drug high. 

Here is the conversation among the deputies: 

“He’s not answering questions,” a deputy says. “He’s playing a game.” 

“He’s been here before, right?” 

“Christian you realize you’re going to be a cite? Right? You’re going to go home at H12 hours?” 

“Christian, you hear that? You’re going to be a cite here, buddy, it’s not that big a deal. Let’s try not to make it any worse.” 

Then a deputy pipes up: “If he messes around he won’t be.” 

Another one adds: “You’re just a cite. You can  go home in about eight hours.” 

Madrigal is then taken, still in restraints, to the jail intake room. As roughly a dozen deputies stand over him in a circle, he is warned.

“If you spit on any of my officers you can be charged with a new crime,” one deputy says. “You understand that?” 

Madrigal is then taken to cell R-1. He is put on the ground, still wearing restraints. The body camera view does not have him in full view and it is impossible to see what he’s fully doing. One angle on his foot, however, shows that it is almost motionless.

One deputy calls out: “This isn’t going to go well. I can’t even get  his socks off.” 

Then a plan is formed to get Madrigal out of the WRAP and spit mask and into what is called a “Pro Straint restraint chair.” That’s because the jail now forbids their use following the June 2018 of inmate Dujuan Armstrong, who was placed in the same restraints and died.

“Let’s get the chair!” one deputy yells. 

“Come on. We’ve been trained. We’ve been highly trained.” 

“Come on. Go get it.” 

“Go get the chair!” 

“We’ve got to call Ced.” 

One of the deputies, Tiffany Ross, is excited to be taking part in this event. 

“I’ve been here two weeks,” she said. “Finally gonna get some action!”

 Another deputy notes the cause of Madrigal’s jail stay. 

“They said shrooms.”

Then a deputy asks: “Has anyone transitioned someone? From a WRAP into a chair?”

Answer: “No, I don’t think it’s that big (inaudible), is it?”

Deputies call for “Ced” or “L.T.” for approval.

When Cedergren comes over, he is seen in the video bouncing on his heels outside the cell looking at Madrigal, thinking of what to do. 

Cedergren changes course and decides to chain Madrigal’s hands and legs through the window port. Deputy Torres talks to Madrigal in Spanish giving him instructions. Sheriff’s reports indicate Madrigal was refusing to comply. The video shows there was some confusion and perhaps a lack of willingness to make it easy for the deputies to chain him up, but the visual evidence shows that Madrigal is not shouting or thrashing. 

The door is eventually shut with Madrigal chained inside.

Up until this time, Madrigal has been in the isolation cell on the ground still in restraints. He mutters at one point that he wants to go home. He is heard wailing “Aaaaaaaah” while he is on the ground in a cell, but it is unclear why. He sounds as if he was in pain.

At the hospital, doctors found that he had a lacerated spleen, according to medical records provided to KTVU. It’s unknown where he suffered this injury. The coroner says it was days old and ruled that Madrigal died by hanging himself on the cell door. 

A hospital report indicates that deputies told doctors he had hung himself with bed sheets. But photos from the hospital show what look like to be chain marks around Christian Madrigal’s neck. (Eden Medical Center/Madrigal family)

The deputies also discuss Madrigal’s alleged behavior in Fremont. They had been told that he had been aggressive and fighting with police there. 

Graham had told his colleagues: “Mushrooms, mushrooms, and he’s, he’s gonna fight with us, he’s already tensing his body. We can’t unrestrain him.” 

But Pointer has reviewed the video from Fremont, which has not been released, and described Madrigal’s behavior like a kid in school, “sort of meandering out of the class line and not really listening.” 

Checks were conducted on Madrigal regularly, the reports state, until 4:40 p.m. 

Then there was a 40-minute gap. 

Just before 5:20 p.m, Cedergren came back to the cell to find that Madrigal was slumped against the door. He had slipped out of the handcuffs and had hung himself with the chains they had provided him.

“F---! F---!” Cedergren shouts, as deputies perform CPR, nurses rush to the scene and the constant “Press! Press! Press!” bleats from the defibrillator.

Madrigal was rushed to Eden Valley Medical Center. 

Meanwhile, Madrigal’s parents had arrived at the jail shortly after their son had been rushed to the hospital, but a deputy doesn’t tell them what happened. Madrigal was pronounced dead at the hospital on June 15, 2019. 

He is one of 47 inmates to have died at Santa Rita since 2014. 

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District Attorney Nancy O’Malley noted in her report that it is not her job to weigh in on violations of jail policy, but to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that jail staff acted criminally. 

O'Malley said that she did not find it unreasonable that Madrigal was chained to the door even though she acknowledged it was "concerning" that he was left there unattended to a "fixed object," and these methods do not demonstrate "best practices." 

O'Malley also noted, however, that jail staff did not appear indifferent to Madrigal, providing him a Spanish interpreter and calling a nurse to assess him.

And she said that while deputies "neglected to make timely observations" of Madrigal right before he took his own life, they had been "diligent" about the checks in the hours before that. 

Pointer disagreed. 

“If a person left their dog chained to a fence and that dog strangled itself and that person just turned their back and allowed it to happen, there would be public outcry and that person would never be allowed to have a dog,” Pointer said. “That person would be brought up on charges of animal cruelty. What’s the difference here?” 

“These officers should be brought up on criminal negligence charges,” he said. “Manslaughter charges.” 

Not holding anyone accountable for Madrigal’s death “violates our sense of fairness and justice,” Pointer said.  

In the wake of George Floyd's death, some district attorneys and police chiefs around the country have been striking new tones by charging officers with crimes and firing them for overzealous behavior.

“We haven’t seen a change in the Bay Area because the decision makers are not in tune and in step with the community,” Pointer said. “Instead, in Alameda County, it’s business as usual. But the people who are out protesting, uprising and who are fed up, they do not want business as usual anymore.” 

WARNING GRAPHIC VIDEO: 

Alameda County sheriff's deputies escort Christian Madrigal into an isolation cell at Santa Rita. June 10, 2019

Christian Madrigal arrived from Fremont in a spit mask to Santa Rita Jail. June 10, 2019

Spit masks and WRPS are lo longer allowed at Santa Rita after Dujuan Armstrong died wearing them in June 2018.

A wide shot of isolation cell R-1 at Santa Rita Jail. June 10, 2019

Christian Madrigal was initially supposed to be put in a "Pro Straint restraint chair." June 10, 2019

Deputies speak to Christian Madrigal in R-1 after he is chained to the door inside. June 10, 2019

Deputy Tiffany Torres holds up a pair of handcuffs.

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@foxtv.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez