The Orange County District Attorney’s office announced this week that the Newport Beach Police Department had no criminal culpability in the death of an inmate at the Newport Beach city jail last summer.
William Robert Wedgeworth died of asphyxiation after hanging himself in the Newport Beach jail on July 31, 2010. He had been arrested for suspicion of domestic battery.
“The officers did not have any reason to believe Wedgeworth posed a danger to himself. … There was no evidence of foul play on the part of any person who came into contact with Wedgeworth prior to his death,” wrote Senior Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste of the homicide unit in the investigation report. “It is my legal opinion that the evidence does not support a finding of criminal culpability on the part of any NBPD officer nor any individual under the supervision of NBPD.”
The investigation also found that neither the NBPD nor the jail breached the legal duty of care for Wedgeworth, either intentionally or through criminal negligence.
The investigation revealed that Wedgeworth called his family from the jail just before 9 p.m. He told his wife “This is the last moments on the world and you are not going to give me love,“ she responded that she did love him and that he needed help.
He also instructed her to have his son sue the city, according to the report.
He asked to say his “last goodbyes” to his children before telling his wife “You knew it was going to happen and you let it happen” before hanging up, the report said.
Calls from the jail are recorded, but not monitored. Mrs. Wedgeworth did not inform the police about the conversation.
According to the report, “Mrs. Wedgeworth believed Wedgeworth was distraught over his arrest, but based on similar comments Wedgeworth had made on previous incidents, she did not believe he would commit suicide.”
She also told investigators that she did not believe he would be able to harm himself while in police custody.
Wedgeworth was found in his cell about an hour after his phone call to his family.
Wedgeworth was arrested after his wife called police at approximately 3:34 p.m. on July 31 and reported a domestic disturbance. A neighbor had reported hearing yelling and objects being thrown earlier that day and the night before.
Wedgeworth’s wife told police that he had charged her, grabbed her hair and thrown her to the floor. He then swore and spit at her, according to the report.
She told police she did not want him locked up but requested that they “take him somewhere.” According to one of the arresting officers, she was not sure what to do with Wedgeworth at first and then decided she wanted him to be arrested.
According to the report, she also told officers he had a history of mental illness and was not taking his medication.
An officer on scene, Sgt. Spencer Arnold, said Wedgeworth told officers he only wanted to take his kids to Legoland. The police sergeant did not believe Wedgeworth was a danger to himself because he appeared to be planning future events with his children. Arnold said he was never informed of Wedgeworth’s previous attempts at suicide or that he was mentally unstable.
During intake, Wedgeworth told custodial officer Daran Kanbara that he had no developmental, psychological or substance abuse problems and that he had never tried to harm himself or take his own life.
The background investigation found that Wedgeworth failed to remain consistently employed and had problems in public situations and interacting with others. His problems seemed to have arisen after his father died four years ago and Wedgeworth became depressed, according to the report.
His depression evolved into rage and destructive and verbally abusive behavior, the DA said. Wedgeworth apparently refused to seek treatment despite numerous pleas from his family and friends.
Police had responded to Wedgeworth’s home on numerous prior occasions for domestic disputes. During his arrest on July 31, Wedgeworth began to cry after being handcuffed.
Mrs. Wedgeworth stated that she wanted him to return home after his release from jail.
He was the only inmate in jail when he entered the facility. Wedgeworth called his family at 8:59 p.m.
During the regular check at 10 p.m., Wedgeworth was found hanging from the cell bars with a white sheet around his neck. Officers called for medical attention, cut him down and attempted to find a pulse.
The Newport Beach Fire Department was alerted of the emergency and paramedics arrived at the jail by 10:08 p.m. After several tests, paramedics found he was not revivable and pronounced him dead at 10:09 p.m.
The toxicology report found THC, methamphetamine and amphetamine in his system.