A press release from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office indicates 75-year-old Fort Bragg man Steven Helm died in his cell early this morning.
Helm was booked into the Mendocino County Jail on April 22, 2022, and accused of sexual crimes against a minor.
We spoke with Sheriff Matt Kendall who told us a corrections deputy in Helm’s housing unit, charged with doing rounds hourly, reported Helm asleep and breathing roughly fifty minutes before finding Helm not breathing at 5:09 a.m.
Despite the life-saving measures taken by jail medical staff, Ukiah Valley Fire Authority, and Medstar paramedics, Helm passed away.
Investigators have ruled out violence, and suicide, and there does not appear to be any drugs involved at this point, Sheriff Kendall said. A forensic autopsy will be conducted this week to determine the cause of death.
Sheriff Kendall said, “we have to remember that when the Good Lord calls us home, it’s our time.”
Sheriff Kendall said it is too early to speculate a cause of death, but told us Helm’s cell and nearby dayrooms were surveilled via video recording throughout the night. Sheriff Kendall said a review of the footage indicates that no inmates had direct contact with him in the hours preceding his death.
Helm was housed in a single-cell, Sheriff Kendall said, due to both COVID-19 quarantine protocols and classification protocols due to the nature of the crimes of which he stood accused.
Sheriff Kendall has been in contact with Helms’ family offering support in their healing after this event.
Sheriff Kendall told us these sorts of incidents are traumatic for his staff. “Some people look at these guys as guards. I look at them as guardians.” Corrections deputies have successfully intervened in overdoses, suicide attempts, and medical emergencies. Sheriff Kendall said his jail staff “takes their duties seriously.”
Sheriff Kendall noted that he was the actual author of the press release issued this morning. Addressing why he authored the press release, he said “The loss of life of someone in my custody is my responsibility.”
It’s important to note that the crimes Helm stood accused of were never tried in a court of law, nor will they be due to his death.
The following is a press release issued by MCSO regarding the in-custody death in its entirety:
On May 1, 2022 at about 5:09 AM, Corrections Deputies were performing routine rounds checking on the welfare of detainees. When they checked on Steven Helm, 75 of Fort Bragg, he appeared to be unconscious. Staff entered the cell, confirmed that Helm was unconscious and checked for a pulse. Finding none, staff immediately began life saving measures including CPR. Jail medical staff was summoned immediately and lifesaving efforts continued.
Emergency medical services were summoned to the jail. Personnel from Ukiah Valley Fire Authority and Medstar Ambulance Service arrived and took over care.
Despite the efforts of everyone involved, Mr. Helm was pronounced dead at 5:40 AM.
Per policy, Detectives from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office were summoned and initiated an investigation into the cause and manner of death.
Mr. Helm has been in custody since April 22, 2022 and was housed in a single cell by himself per classification and COVID-19 quarantine procedures. In the hours preceding his death there were no interactions with other inmates per classification and COVID-19 quarantine policies.