OC DA Clears Controversial Prison Firm in Garden Grove Custody Death

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When investigating custody-related deaths, the Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office only looks at the question of criminal culpability. It leaves civil liability alone. The distinction comes into play with the agency's latest clearance in Garden Grove, a city that contracts with The GEO Group, a controversial and lawsuit ridden private for-profit prison firm.

Joel Duran came under GEO's watch on August 18, 2012 when cuffed by Garden Grove police officer James Franks for resisting arrest.

Duran was pronounced dead by a doctor nearly two-and-a-half hours later at a nearby hospital.

The OCDA reports that Franks took the 25-year-old to the Garden Grove Police Department (GGPD) that night with GEO Group correctional/detention officers Camden Drake, Russell Driscoll and Toby Andazola on staff.

Drake searched Duran when he noticed something in his mouth. A number of chewed meth baggies were removed though the man denied swallowing any narcotics when asked.

Detention officer Driscoll later transferred him to a cell with no drinking fountain or toilet. Duran started sweating and asking for water. Officer Andazola thought he might be under the influence, but when asked again, Duran denied ingesting any meth. The GEO Group officers took him at his word and continued processing.

Less than an hour after his arrest, Duran's behavior deteriorated further during booking as he sweated heavily and became increasing edgy. Drake left the jail to alert officer Franks and other Garden Grove police of the potential medical situation at hand.

Paramedics arrived to the scene taking Duran to Garden Grove Hospital Medical Center. By that time, his heart raced out of control at a pace of 190 beats per minute. He soon went into cardiac arrest. Life saving measures failed and Duran died an hour after being admitted. The autopsy notes meth overdose as the cause of death.

"At no time did any GGPD officer, staff, contractor or other individual under the supervision of GGPD act with malice toward Duran," writes the OCDA in its legal analysis. The agency found no cause for criminal negligence either, clearing all involved in the matter.

The OCDA report can be read in its entirety online.

Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz

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