Inmates tear gassed in their cells

The Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose. The county also has a jail in Milpitas. AP file photo.
The Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose. The county also has a jail in Milpitas. File photo.

This story was originally printed June 28 in the Daily Post. To stay on top of all of the local news, pick up a copy of the Post in the morning at 1,000 Mid-Peninsula locations.

Daily Post Staff Writer

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors wants to know why sheriff’s deputies used tear gas and pepper spray on inmates who refused to leave their cells, going against warnings from the CDC about chemicals in confined spaces.

Supervisors voted June 27 to delay buying new military equipment for Sheriff Bob Jonsen’s office until they get some answers about the incidents.

Jonsen, the former police chief in Palo Alto, is asking to buy a new bomb disposal robot, 185 replacement AR-15 rifles, 370 projectiles, 116 flashbang grenades and 40 vapor grenades.

A new state law requires law enforcement agencies to report on what military equipment they have and how they used it.

Inmates wouldn’t follow orders to come out of their cells on 16 occasions between May 1, 2022, and March 31 of this year, according to the sheriff’s latest report (pages 24-39).

In response, deputies used a tear gas grenade called “clear out” to gain compliance, the report says.

Deputies used a second tear gas grenade or pepper spray on a few occasions when the first grenade didn’t work, the report says.

The CDC warns that chemical agents are especially dangerous in confined spaces and can cause blindness, chemical burns, respiratory failure and even death, Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said at the June 27 hearing.

Ellenberg asked the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, or OCLEM, to review all incidents labeled as “cell extraction” and “refusal to follow directive,” when there was no immediate safety threat.

OCLEM will report on whether deputies followed the policy, and if there are any alternative practices for responding to “passive noncompliance.”

The rest of the board unanimously supported Ellenberg’s request. Representatives from the sheriff’s office and OCLEM will return to the Board of Supervisors in August.


  1. The Sherriff may have changed, but obviously procedures for passive non-compliance haven’t. Another old story from the history books

  2. This is just the beginning of things how the police and the sheriff are Starting act like military… There was no
    form of threat. This was an exercise or procedure done that mimics military structure upon.
    Enemies and terrorists.. But they’re not terrorists, and they’re not soldiers of military background. They are inmates that just refused to come out of their cell. What would become the next of these types of situation? When it makes protest peacefully or refuse to eat and go on hunger strikes. They will be dealt with with physical force…San Jose county is known for their aggressive Tactics used upon citizens and upon the innocent and even over excessive force upon criminals. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last.
    This is not the first time no, will be the last. There has to become some change. It means I’m dying in Bellwood and Santa Clara County jails. And Let’s not forget all the debts we’ve been dealing with in elmwood and downtown. The police and the sheriff need to act like police and sheriff and quit China act like military soldiers.

  3. Gassing a prisoner in his cell is extreme and should be investigated by a human rights organization. The prisoner who is gassed has nowhere to retreat and must inhale the toxic fumes. Seems like something barbaric from Nazi Germany.

    • Not true, they may exit their cell as directed. The inmates have a choice, follow a lawful direction or suffer the consequences.

      • Why don’t you just leave them in their cells until they get tired of that and want to leave. Treat them like children. Wait them out. Using gas to get them to move says loudly to the inmates that you’re not up to the job of running the place.

      • I got it. Same logic as using police dogs to maul suspects. Either give up to the police, and take your beating now when the cameras are off, or the dog will do it instead. And I thought suspects were innocent until proven guilty. Guess not in Santa Clara County or Palo Alto.

  4. My cousin, who is in the main jail, has severe asthma. If they did that to him or someone nearby, it would kill him.

  5. I work at a prison and inmates know that they will get pepper sprayed if they even attempt to commit suicide… It’s crazy! On a few occasions there were inmates jumping off the top tier in their block. They were met with pepper spray, before being sent to medical, and placed on suicide watch.

  6. “Supervisors voted June 27 to delay buying new military equipment for Sheriff Bob Jonsen’s office until they get some answers about the incidents.

    Jonsen, the former police chief in Palo Alto, …”

    Another Palo Alto “leader” continuing his record of distinguished public service but on a broader scale. (SARCASM.

    SHAME on Palo Altans who haven’t paid attention and voted for Jonsen.

  7. . Smith is gone but the stanch is still lingering. When are we going to accept most of these folks are spiritually bankrupt. It’s starts from the top down. Who is still at the top ??

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