As deaths in police custody continue, staff reporter leaves job to freelance

San Diego Central Jail. Photo by Kelly Davis.

Two years before Baltimore, Freddie Gray and controversy over the death of persons in police custody, Kelly Davis was writing about the San Diego County jails. Led by the sheriff’s department, America’s Finest City has the highest per capita rate of inmate death of any major city in California.

Last fall she followed up on that reporting (16 people died, more than any year since 2007) and brought a spike in suicide attempts at juvenile hall to light.

Now, after more than 12 years at San Diego City Beat, Davis left the alternative weekly in March to expand her reporting on criminal justice to other parts of Southern California and beyond.

To pay for costly records requests and help her get started as a freelance journalist, Davis launched a crowdfunding campaign with a $1,500 goal. Instead she raised $5,600, according to her Indiegogo page.

The campaign ended last week and had only two rewards: $50 for a homemade Harvey Wallbanger cake, the kind Davis makes every Christmas, and $250 for a round of drinks with CityBeat’s former cocktail columnist.

Her first post-City Beat story about a lawsuit filed by the widow of a Marine who committed suicide in San Diego County Sheriff’s Department custody was published by U-T San Diego last month. Her second story about the 2012 shooting death of an unarmed man by the San Diego Police Department was published last week by

“I’ve got a couple of people who want to kind of walk me through the juvenile justice system from top to bottom,” she said. “Because they noticed a lot of problems that they think need to be called out.”

By turning her full attention to her longtime beat, Davis hopes to increase the public’s understanding of the criminal justice system in California.

There’s much more to a person’s story than a single crime, Davis said, and not every person convicted of a crime is evil. Some suffer from mental health issues or were victims of abuse, she said.

“When you see media reports about someone who’s in jail or in prison, who’s been arrested, it focuses on why they were bad or the bad thing that they did. It doesn’t focus on how they got to that place,” she said. 

Davis wants her readers to understand how mental health can impact a person and manifest itself into criminal behavior. She believes that if the topic is looked at, we can better understand why a person is behaving the way they are and can find alternative measures instead of putting them in jail or prison.

“I’ve always been just appalled at how poorly those folks are treated once they get into the criminal justice system,” she said.

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Robert Moreno
Robert is a full-time reporter for the Chula Vista Star-News covering local government and education beats and writing human interest stories. He is a believer in nonprofit journalism.


  1. Good report. Also, the average man on the street, (which is a legal standard), might ask how is it the DA finds all police shooting “good shoots.”


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