'Good kid' dies in sheriff's department custody

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - For the second time in just over a month, a man has died in the custody of the Kern County Sheriff's Department. Officers report ambulance personnel found two baggies in the man's throat. That was the second time an ambulance was called out to respond.

Wilfredo Ramos, 25, died in the Memorial Hospital emergency room around 11:30 p.m. Monday.

By late Tuesday, the Kern County coroner's office reported an autopsy had been done, but toxicology studies still have to be completed to determine cause of death.

Friends said Ramos was known as "Willy" and described him as a nice kid.

"He was really a good kid," neighbor Stephanie Joslin told Eyewitness News. "He was a really respectful, nice kid."

She would often see Ramos in the area, she didn't see the incident late Monday night.

Sheriff officials said it was about 9:30 p.m. when deputies encountered Ramos in the 1900 block of South J Street. The officers were there to arrest another person on a felony warrant, which they did, according to a sheriff's sergeant on scene early Tuesday.

Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt later said deputies then spotted Ramos near a travel trailer, and they were suspicious of his activity, so they tried to contact him.

"The deputies saw Ramos holding a baggie that they believed may contain illegal narcotics and drug paraphernalia," a sheriff's statement says that was issued Tuesday night.

Ramos ran, according to Pruitt.

Ramos reportedly tossed something on the ground while being chased, but Pruitt said he wasn't clear on what it was.

Ramos reportedly ran about 50 feet more, then turned and confronted the officers. "After running a short distance Ramos stopped, turned toward the deputies, raised his fists and attempted to hit them," the sheriff's report reads.

Deputies struggled with him on the ground, Pruitt said, but did not use batons, pepper spray or a Taser.

Ramos was cuffed and put in the back of a patrol car, and an ambulance was called because Ramos had a scratched head, according to Pruitt. Ramos reportedly declined medical aid when the ambulance arrived.

A little while later, a deputy noticed Ramos was having "medical complications," so a deputy took the handcuffs off, put Ramos on the ground and started CPR, Pruitt said.

The ambulance was called back. Ramos was having trouble getting air, and the ambulance crew found two plastic baggies in Ramos' throat, according to Pruitt. They also found residue possibly from drugs, the sheriff's office spokesman said.

A neighbor who only wanted to give her first name said she saw the incident.

"When my daughter was following behind me, she said she (saw) an officer smash someone's head on the floor," Janet said. "We were just watching the whole time, we (saw) an ambulance come out."

Janet said they also saw the second ambulance arrive. The deputies had started CPR, and next the EMTs also tried to revive Ramos.

"The EMT came around, started pumping on his chest, as well," Janet described. She got emotional and then continued, "And that was it."

Janet said she's known Ramos for years.

Janet questioned why the deputies didn't require Ramos to be seen by the EMTs the first time the ambulance came out.

"If he refused or not, he was already in custody," she said. "If you're going to act like a little kid, we're still going to do this, regardless. You still need medical attention."

The sheriff's office is already dealing with the aftermath of an in-custody death last month.

David Silva was involved in a confrontation with deputies May 7 near Kern Medical Center. The coroner's office has said Silva died accidentally due to hypertensive heart disease, but witnesses claimed deputies used excessive force.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood said last month that Silva was struck with batons during his arrest, apparently for public intoxication. But all baton strikes were executed within department policy, avoiding the head and neck, the sheriff said.

The Silva family last week filed a civil rights claim against the sheriff's office and other parties in response to the death.

In Monday's incident, Ramos' relatives told Eyewitness News they have talked to a lawyer. The family reports Ramos has four children, ages 1 through 6.

Sheriff officials say during the investigation a cell phone containing possible video evidence was seized "pursuant to a search warrant," a statement says. "The cell phone's contents were imaged and the cell phone was returned to the owner," it continued.

Neighbor Stephanie Joslin said Ramos was probably in the alley visiting friends when he was spotted by the deputies. She was surprised to hear the plastic baggies had been found in his throat.

"I just know Willy as a good kid," Joslin said. "I didn't know him to have any involvement in drugs."

A check of the Kern County Superior Court website shows four cases that appear to be against Ramos that involve drug possession. The cases date from 2011 back to 2007, and Ramos either pleaded no contest or charges were dismissed.

Friends said they don't understand what went wrong in the confrontation with the two deputies.

"He's just a really friendly person, he's always smiling," Janet said. "I've never seen bad in him. Never."

Joslin said the same.

"It's tragic, it's sad," she said. "All I know is he's a good kid, and it's a sad situation."