Unknown substance sickens inmate, officers at jail

Sheriff's deputies, firefighters and a hazardous materials crew work in a staging area outside the County Jail on Water Street in Santa Cruz Wednesday after several people fell ill when exposed to an unknown chemical. (Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian)

SANTA CRUZ — Several Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Correctional Officers assigned to guard the Main Jail were taken to the hospital Wednesday after they were exposed to an unknown substance.

The incident began at about 10:45 a.m. when officers searching a housing unit discovered a suspected narcotic, and saw an inmate ingest it, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Cleveland said.

The inmate later became sick, and the deputies took him to the hospital.

Officers began to experience a variety of unspecified symptoms about an hour later, Cleveland said, and several more an hour after that.

All the officers were given a series of tests and were cleared to return to work, Cleveland said.

The Santa Cruz County Fire Department responded to the incident, as did the county’s Environmental Health Department and a hazardous materials team.

They used yellow tape to cordon off the exit and entrances to the jail throughout the day Wednesday.

The substance was sent to the Department of Justice for testing. It is still unclear what made the inmate and deputies sick.

“It’s really still uncertain, and that’s the unsettling part,” Cleveland said.

If the substance was narcotics or a different illegal substance, the inmate could face charges for bringing a controlled substance into the jail.

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