A new report by Orange County’s top prosecutor found Santa Ana police officers failed to follow department protocols before an inmate hung himself with a bedsheet under their watch in 2020. 

The investigation focused on the final hours of Jason Ray Jones, a 47-year-old inmate known to suffer from substance abuse who lost both his parents during the four months he was in the city jail, according to a report by OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s office. 

While investigators say officers failed to properly check in on Jones, no one will be charged with a crime because it’s unclear when he began to hang himself on Nov. 4, 2020.

“There is insufficient evidence to establish that had (Correctional Officer Mary) Valenzeula conducted welfare checks in accordance with protocol it would have prevented Jones’ suicide,” investigators concluded. 

To review a copy of the report, click here

Sgt. Maria Lopez, a Santa Ana Police Dept. spokesperson, initially declined to comment on the report or if Valenzuela faced any consequences. 

After the story was published, Lopez told Voice of OC that Valenzuela was fired. 

The report was written by Senior Deputy District Attorney Steven Schriver and approved by Spitzer.

Jones, who was also in an unstable relationship, was given “both medical and mental health care,” at the jail along with medication for his anxiety and medication designed to help ease his addiction, according to the District Attorney report.

According to the report, Santa Ana police officer Mary Valenzuela logged into the department computer that she did a welfare check on Jones while overseeing the cell block at 1:04 a.m., but security footage from the jail showed that she never did.

“SAPD Detention Facility video surveillance system recordings showed, however, that (correctional officer) Valenzuela remained at the module’s officer podium for the entire time,” investigators wrote. 

Investigators said video footage showed Jones moving freely in his cell by the time another officer came back from break and traded off with Valenzuela. 

“Valenzuela apparently failed to conduct welfare checks between 12:00 a.m. and 1:14 a.m. in accordance with SAPD protocol. Had Jones attempted suicide during this timeframe, criminal responsibility would potentially lie with her,” investigators wrote. 

The report adds: 

“However based on the surveillance video recordings and Jone’s observed movements thereon, it is clear that Jones committed suicide after (correctional officer) Fernandez relieved (correctional officer) Valenzuela and sometime between 1:16 a.m. and 1:35 a.m.”

The report says Valenzuela declined to answer OC District Attorney investigators’ questions about the issue.

Security footage between 1:10 and 1:16 a.m. showed Jones moving around in his cell, but due to the angle of the camera, investigators say it’s unclear what he was doing. 

Valenzuela traded off with another officer at 1:14 a.m. 

At about 1:35 a.m. the other officer found Jones hanging by his bed sheet from the top bunk and called for medical assistance. 

By the time medical staff arrived, Jones was completely unresponsive and had no pulse, and he was pronounced dead an hour later at OC Global Medical Center after repeated attempts to revive him failed, the report states.  

Investigators say it’s unclear precisely when Jones hung himself based on the security footage, but that it likely happened after Valenzuela was relieved but before the second officer came to review the cell again.

“It is possible that welfare checks conducted prior to 1:14 a.m. would have revealed evidence that Jones was preparing to commit suicide,” investigators wrote. “It is equally possible that Jones’ made no preparations until after he was observed on surveillance video at 1:16 a.m.” 

“Ultimately, both theories are speculative and lack evidentiary support.” 

Tests on Jones’ blood after he died also found traces of methamphetamine and other drugs in his system. 

He’d been in jail for four months when he died. 

The DA report does not specify what Jones had been booked for during the time of his death in custody at the Santa Ana city jail, and instead lists prior arrests for violations including domestic battery, willful child cruelty, and violation of court orders.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord. 

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