Jury in coroner's inquest determines county inmate's overdose was accidental

Investigators unsure how Vallejo man acquired drugs while in jail

A man who died of a heroin overdose in his cell at the Martinez Detention Facility last year was found to have died as a result of an accident during a coroner's inquest Thursday morning.

James Darryl Cooper, 45, was found unresponsive when Deputy Brandon Gallagher checked his room around 12:45 a.m. on Jan. 24, 2018.

Cooper was not breathing and had no pulse when Gallagher called for medical aid, pulled him off the cell's lower bunk and administered CPR.

Medical personnel took over the effort to save Cooper's life and the jail's command staff sequestered Gallagher, sending him to an isolated area until he could be interviewed a couple hours later, Gallagher said at Thursday's inquest hearing.

Contra Costa County convenes a coroner's inquest to determine the manner of death whenever a person dies and law enforcement or correctional personnel are involved. A jury can make one of four possible findings: that the death happened at the hands of another other than by means of an accident, or by accident, suicide or natural causes.

Detective Matthew Ingersoll, who was brought in to investigate, told jurors his primary role was to interview other inmates near the scene of Cooper's death. One of those inmates told Ingersoll he'd heard someone in a nearby cell discussing pills and drugs, but had not been able to determine who was talking.

Ingersoll wasn't able to prove exactly how Cooper obtained drugs while in custody, but he speculated that the drugs may have been smuggled into the Martinez Detention Facility inside someone's body -- possibly even inside Cooper himself. The Vallejo man was in the jail on a warrant for domestic violence.

"If they know they're coming in to jail, sometimes they'll hide the drugs in or on their bodies," Ingersoll said. "They'll then excrete those items and either use them or sell them."

Correctional deputies are pretty good at finding drugs and other contraband hidden in the clothing of an incoming inmate, but it's more difficult to find items that have been secreted inside a body cavity.

Dr. Ikechi Ogan, a pathologist working for the coroner's office, said there was no external sign of injury when her performed an autopsy on Cooper's body.

"Because it's an in-custody death, it's important to rule out any injuries," Ogan said.

There were, however, externally visible signs of disease.

Cooper was obese, according to Ogan. His heart was enlarged, possibly as a result of high blood pressure or drug use, and his liver showed signs of heavy alcohol use.

Cooper's lungs showed signs of emphysema and were very heavy due to a buildup of fluid, both of which may indicate he may have been a heavy smoker at one point.

Thursday morning's inquest took less than three hours, and after a brief recess eight of the 12 jurors reported that they had determined Cooper's death was accidental in nature. Three jurors determined he had died of natural causes and one determined it had been a case of suicide.

— Bay City News Service

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