While Berkeley Police are offering few details about the in-custody death of 45-year-old Tyrone Hughes Sr., the dead man’s son is talking lawsuit, and he’s already arranged for a private autopsy.
Hughes Sr. died early Monday morning, March 29, after lapsing into convulsions during booking at the city jail, according to police spokesperson Kevin Schofield, who said paramedics found a plastic container lodged in Hughes’ throat.
Schofield said suspects sometimes try to swallow drugs to prevent their discovery by officers.
“My father’s known for not ever taking pills,” said his son, Tyrone Hughes Jr. in a telephone interview with the Daily Planet.
Deirdre Spears, the deceased’s former wife and Hughes Jr.’s mother, said Hughes wouldn’t take pills unless he had first crushed them into powder. “He’d gone to jail so many times before,” she explained. “He would just do his time. He was a drug addict. That’s why I divorced him. But he was a devoted father. He was there at his grandson’s birth, and he came to visit his son every week.”
Hughes Jr. described his father as 5’7” and weighing “less than 140 pounds.”
Hughes had been arrested after a routine traffic stop when officers discovered an outstanding warrant on drug charges. Schofield said that officers who frisked Hughes found pieces of suspected rock cocaine in his pockets,.
During booking at the city jail, Hughes “appeared to suffer from and medical problem and became unresponsive,” Schofield said.
Paramedics took the stricken man to Alta Bates Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:27 a.m., said Dan Apperson, a supervisor at the Alameda County Coroner’s office. “The cause of death is pending. It’s under investigation by Homicide Sgt. Howard Nonoguchi of the Berkeley Police Department.”
Hughes Jr. said Berkeley police have refused to talk to him except for Nonoguchi’s comment that “it could be weeks or months before they have a report.”
“I haven’t eaten since Monday and I can’t sleep,” the young man said over the telephone as his infant son cried in the background. “It’s so hard,” he added, lapsing into sobs.
After his divorce from Spears, Hughes married Pastor Carol Hughes Willoughby, founder of NewLife for Christ Community Ministry and a candidate who came in third in the 2000 race for the District 2 seat on the Berkeley City Council.
Spears and her son said they have contacted the office of Oakland attorney John Burris, well-known for pursuing actions against police, but “he hasn’t agreed to represent us yet,” Spears said. “It was a real shame that the police wouldn’t tell my son anything, and that he had to find out the details from the papers,” she added.H