Family of man who died in Riverside County jail files wrongful death claim

The family of Richard Matus Jr. has filed a wrongful death claim against Riverside County, alleging "record-breaking jail deaths."

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Saturday, September 17, 2022
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The family claims there's more they don't know about the death of Richard Matus Jr. However, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco says there's no mystery, saying the preliminary cause of death was a fentanyl overdose.

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. (KABC) -- It's been more than a month since a 29-year-old man was found dead inside a Riverside County jail, and his family says they still don't have any concrete answers as to what happened.

"Nobody's giving us any statements," said the man's mother, Lisa Matus. "Nobody's saying anything."

Her son, Richard Matus Jr., was in jail awaiting trial on attempted murder and robbery charges in connection to a shooting at a dispensary in Banning in June 2018.

His brother, Raymond Matus, is still in jail awaiting his trial on charges stemming from the same incident.

Matus' family has filed a wrongful death claim against Riverside County, alleging "record-breaking jail deaths in 2022."

Matus died on August 11 at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta.

"We're here today to announce that lawsuit against the county of Riverside to raise awareness to what's going on in this county," said attorney Christian Contreras. "Individuals in jail, innocent until proven guilty, should not die under mysterious circumstances."

But Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said there's no mystery surrounding the death of Matus, saying the preliminary cause of death is a fentanyl overdose.

"We are not going to settle this, we will fight this to the end," said Bianco. "We did nothing wrong. He chose to do drugs while in custody, and unfortunately, we were not able to revive him when he overdosed."

Bianco said 13 inmates have died in Riverside County jails in 2022.

He said one death was a homicide, two were suicides, three were deaths related to medical complications and five deaths were from fentanyl overdoses.

The cause of death for two of the inmates is still pending.

"Fentanyl is in our jail system, and they keep smuggling it in, and they keep using it. We're doing everything we can to save their lives, and unfortunately, we can't save all of them," said Bianco.

Bianco said on average, nine inmates die each year in Riverside County jails, so he acknowledges this year the death rate is above average.

Compared with the 13 deaths in Riverside County jails, officials in San Bernardino County say so far this year, 16 inmates have died inside their jail system.

Bianco said the five fentanyl-related deaths reported in his jail system this year is a new record.

"We are educating (inmates on fentanyl use). We are providing them documentation, we're making them sign wavers that say fentanyl kills, and to not use drugs in jail, but yet they still do," he said.

Bianco said despite the preliminary determination of a fentanyl overdose, they're still awaiting an official cause of death. However, the Matus family attorney says they don't believe it was drugs.

"Something is up. Something is wrong," said Contreras. "Something needs to be done to insure more people who are innocent until proven guilty don't die in these jails."