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Cause of Santa Cruz Inmate Death: Water Intoxication

Protest will meet Thursday to call attention to Tamario Smith’s death

Activists gathered to call attention to the death of Tamario Smith during a June 4 protest. PHOTO: MAT WEIR

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office has announced the cause of death of Tamario Smith, the 21-year-old who died in custody at the Santa Cruz County Jail on May 10. 

Smith died of acute water intoxication, due to the over-consumption of water in a short period of time, and the situation was compounded by “underlying mental health issues” that Smith had, according to a press release from sheriff’s office spokesperson Ashley Keehn. Smith’s water consumption led to an electrolyte imbalance, causing his organs to fail, the release stated. Smith, who was pronounced dead at the jail, had been arrested in January on domestic violence-related charges.

The autopsy, testing and investigation showed no evidence of trauma, foul play, Covid- 19 or signs that Smith had ingested any caustic or poisonous substances, according to the release. The sheriff’s office has classified Smith’s death as an accident. 

Under both Sheriff Jim Hart and his predecessor Phil Wowak, the sheriff’s office has faced scrutiny for its medical services, inspection procedures and deaths at the jail. Consecutive Santa Cruz County Grand Jury reports about the jail in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 all called for improvements. 

Amid increased scrutiny of law enforcement across the country, activists have called for details about Smith’s death during recent protests. A previously scheduled protest will meet tonight at the Santa Cruz clock tower on Water Street at 5pm. 

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