Merced County jail inmate killed in apparent homicide

A Merced County inmate was found dead Monday inside the main jail in Merced, a victim of an apparent homicide, the Sheriff's Office reported.

The victim's identity was not released pending notification of his family. 

Deputy Daryl Allen said it was too early to comment on many details of the case, including the manner and cause of death and exactly where in the jail the homicide occurred. 

The victim was found dead around 1 p.m. Monday inside the jail on West 22nd Street in Merced. The slaying marks the seventh reported homicide case of 2018 in Merced County.

Last year a 31-year-old Los Banos man was beaten inside the jail by gang members when, according to Merced County prosecutors, he refused to smuggle drugs inside the facility.

Aaron Bonilla died about two weeks later at a hospital in Modesto. His family has since filed a $2 million wrongful death lawsuit against the county.

A 29-year-old man was beaten to death in 2015. Six inmates were charged in connection with the slaying of the inmate, Alejandro Vega.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke has been pushing for greater staffing levels at the jail since taking office more than four years ago. During an interview in 2016, Warnke said correctional officers have been dealing with larger numbers of inmates than the facility  - which was built in the 1960s - was meant to handle. 

Those issues also have been compounded by other challenges, the sheriff has said, including the 2011 California Public Safety Realignment Act. 

Local-level law enforcement officials said the law, which was designed to reduce state prison populations, transferred responsibility for many crimes from the state to the county level. As a result, officials have said, county jails now have a larger number of more sophisticated and more violent offenders staying for greater stretches of time.