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Alex Jones asked to see a psychiatrist. Instead, he got a chaplain.
Jones was a Marine at the time, completing his training at Camp Pendleton. He had injured his back and was scared he’d be forced out of the Marine Corps.
“The chaplain read him a few bible verses, gave him some tapes and sent him on his way,” Jones’ sister said.
Jones’ story is part of a disturbing trend in suicides at Camp Pendleton, uncovered by Will Huntsberry in a new investigation.
Between 2015 and 2020, at least 31 young soldiers have died by suicide at Camp Pendleton. During the same period, just two people died by suicide at Naval Base San Diego, which has nearly as many personnel as Pendleton.
“Those numbers reflect a serious, persistent and tragic problem, with concrete cultural change long overdue,” one former Army psychologist told Huntsberry.
Of the 31 suicides, at least 20 occurred in barracks. Another four took place at training grounds on the base.
“The barracks suicides are particularly disturbing, since barracks housing comes with multiple restrictions designed to keep troops safe,” writes Huntsberry. “Marines living in barracks are not allowed to have firearms and they have limited access to alcohol, both of which can put people at greater risk of taking their own lives.”
In a note prior to his death, Jones wrote, “I tried reaching out for help everyone kind of ignored it (sic.)” Even still, an internal Marine investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of his command.
Click here to read the full story and catch up on Huntsberry’s previous reporting about the high prevalence of suicide in young active-duty men in the armed services here.
San Diego’s Surveillance Ordinance Passes Another Hurdle
The San Diego City Council took another step Monday towards the implementation of a surveillance ordinance but opened the door to possible changes down the road.
The ordinance is intended to put greater rules around the use and acquisition of technology capable of monitoring the public. It’s been in the works for more than two years but languished for much of that time as the mayor’s office changed hands and officials compiled a list of surveillance tools while meeting with the heads of employee unions.
The version of the ordinance approved last month by a narrow 5-4 vote included an exemption for cops who serve on federal task forces, generating hours of public discussion, almost all of it in opposition. Many of those same voices reiterated their opposition on Monday.
They argued that the federal task force exemption undermined the transparency goals of the ordinance and put, as three argued in the Union-Tribune last week, immigrants and people traveling here for reproductive health care at risk. At the meeting, several pointed to the FBI’s history of using surveillance to disrupt Black and Brown political groups, and others shared stories of how they or their Muslim families were harassed after 9/11.
As Khalid Alexander, a member of the Trust SD Coalition, put it: “Why would you want to blind yourself to the task forces in your own district?”
Monica Montgomery Steppe, who introduced and championed the ordinance alongside community groups, said she continues to have issues with the exemption but agreed to move the ordinance forward because of the considerable delay. She also complained that the FBI never reached out to discuss the exemption and complained that the proponents of the exemptions have mischaracterized her supporters.
“Everyone wants the same doggone thing, and that is to feel safe in their community,” she said.
On Council President Sean Elo-Rivera’s recommendation, the ordinance was unanimously pushed through for a final reading while city staff also consider the possibility of a new amendment in the future. Elo-Rivera asked officials to consider tweaking the federal task force exemption so it doesn’t apply to the collection of information about reproductive healthcare, citizenship status, gender identity and sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and religion.
“We’re in a tough spot today,” Elo-Rivera said. “The folks who showed up to share their stories and history of surveillance in this country, you made more than a compelling case for why it’s so important for us to protect transparency here.”
He said he wanted to ensure that Montgomery Steppe’s work becomes law while the civil rights of San Diegans are protected.
The Science Behind San Diego’s New Poo-Detector
San Diego became the world’s guinea pig when a brand new water quality test rolled out along Southern California coastlines, revealing just how potentially poo-plagued South Bay’s beaches are from Tijuana sewage.
In the latest Environment Report, MacKenzie Elmer unpacks the science behind the new test which San Diego is first in the world to use. Some, particularly the mayor of Coronado, are skeptical of the results which show wildly higher amounts of bacteria than the prior testing method ever showed.
Yet, both tests — old and new — use the same risk for illness threshold the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets for water quality. Nevertheless, that’s why South Bay’s coastal water quality is now being considered unsafe for human health more often than we’ve ever seen before.
In Other News
- Data from more than 450 police use-of-force incidents dating back to 2000 reveals that police agencies in San Diego County are more likely to shoot nonwhite suspects, according to a new KPBS report. According to the data, police fired their weapons 64 percent of the time when the suspects were people of color and 48 percent of the time when the suspects were white. (KPBS)
- The California Coastal Commission approved the conversion of the mobile home park in northeast Mission Bay into campsites and open space. The park has been run down and decaying for years, but could soon be turned into restored marshland, a recreational area and a camping area. (Union-Tribune)
- The Union-Tribune reviewed police response times as recorded in city budgets over the last 14 years and found that response times to most calls have gotten significantly worse. Police are still rapidly responding to emergencies like deadly shootings, but are taking an average of 40 minutes to respond to Priority 1 calls, which include things like domestic violence, and even longer to respond to lesser priority calls.
- The city of San Diego is paying a whopping $1.2 million to a man who was rear ended by a city dump truck five years ago. The 2017 accident required the San Diego man to get four different surgeries and reduced his long-term earning capacity. (Union-Tribune)
This Morning Report was written by Will Huntsberry, Jesse Marx, MacKenzie Elmer and Tigist Layne. It was edited by Megan Wood.