BERKELEY - Relatives of a Berkeley man found dead in his cell at a juvenile prison said Wednesday they fear a government coverup -- although investigators say there is no evidence of foul play.
Dyron Brewer, 24, was found dead about 4 a.m. Sunday in his cell at a California Youth Authority prison in Stockton. The cause of death has not been determined, according to the San Joaquin County coroner.
Brewer is the fourth CYA inmate -- who are called wards -- to die in custody this year.
At a Wednesday news conference, family members and their allies said they fear that Brewer, who had been in custody for a month on an alleged parole violation, was beaten before his death.
"Given the CYA's horrible track record of neglect, abuse and coverup, we need a full, open investigation of how Dyron lost his life,'' said Lenore Anderson, director of Books Not Bars, a San Francisco juvenile justice advocacy group. "The CYA claims that Dyron Brewer went to sleep a healthy 24- year-old and never woke up. That's very suspicious."
The youth authority has been the focus of state reform efforts for nearly two years. It is also the subject of a class-action lawsuit alleging widespread mistreatment. State investigators found that many inmates spent as much as 23 hours a day in locked cells.
Investigators also reported guards seem to encourage violence between inmates rather than prevent it. California's youth penal system is the only one in the country that houses troublesome inmates in small steel-mesh cages, a practice that is being phased out.
Brewer's family said photos of his body provided by coroner's investigators show suspicious marks on his face that might be bruises. But San Joaquin County Sheriff's Deputy Nellie Stone said there is no obvious evidence Brewer was beaten or involved in a fight prior to his death.
"There was no evidence of foul play,'' Stone said.
Stone said the exact cause of Brewer's death will not be known until toxicology and other tests are completed in two to four weeks.
Critics said his death may be the result of problems in the CYA system. They called for the swift release of all documents and evidence related to his death.
"We just really want answers, we really want answers why,'' said his sister, Twanisha Brewer, 22. "He was perfectly healthy. They are not giving us any information."
She said her brother told her he was being harassed and provoked by guards there.
CYA spokeswoman Sarah Ludeman said Wednesday the case is being investigated by her agency as well as the state inspector general.
"The death of a ward who is in our custody is a tragedy for everyone,'' Ludeman said. "We wish to convey our sincere condolences to the family of this young man. A full investigation is going on."
Ludeman said Brewer served seven years in the CYA system after a 1995 robbery conviction when he was a minor. California law required that after he became an adult, Brewer was to remain under the jurisdiction of the CYA until he turned 25.
He was paroled in 2002 but was sent to the Stockton prison Aug. 3 for an alleged technical violation of parole. Ludeman did not have details of his alleged violation. She said technical violations typically involve failing a drug test or missing meetings with a parole agent.
Three other inmates have died in other CYA prisons this year. Deon Whitfield, 17, of Los Angeles and Durrell Feaster, 18, of Stockton were found dead Jan. 19 in their cell at a different prison after hanging themselves with bedsheets. Another inmate died later that month after swallowing toxic chemicals.
Brewer was at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility, which houses an estimated 720 men ages 18 to 25. Earlier this year, that Stockton prison was the scene of a videotaped incident in which guards appeared to beat and kick inmates who had been subdued.
State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who chairs a committee looking at problems in the state's adult and youth prisons, said Brewer's death -- even if it was the result unexpected natural causes -- should have been prevented.
"Any death in custody is a problem,'' Romero said. "If he had medical issues, they should have been treated. If it was an overdose, then why were drugs in the facility and if it was foul play, then someone should be held accountable."
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