Michael Paul, a 48-year-old from Crestline, California, was taken into custody at the Twin Peaks sheriff’s station on April 5, 2016, after allegedly jaywalking and appearing to be under the influence. He died a few hours later in the holding room, though the family has not gotten a clear answer about the circumstances of his death and a coroner’s report has not been released. Michael’s mother, Joan Davis, his younger brother, John Paul, and his girlfriend, Emily McKernan, talked to The Huffington Post as part of our ongoing series of stories about deaths in jails across the country.
As told to Mercy Yang.
Joan Davis: “You always saw the smile on his face before you saw him. He was a happy kid. As an adult and as a kid, he always helped other people. When he was little, apparently there was a little lady down the street ― I didn’t know it at the time ― who did not have enough food. She was eating cat food. I started missing groceries out of my house and I followed him and his brother. And he was taking food over to the lady.
Everybody that lived up in the mountain in San Bernardino and all of his friends knew, if they needed anything, the shirt off his back, he’d give it to him. He was just that kind of a kid. He’s the one who always remembered birthdays, anniversaries, major things. He built me a waterfall pond for a Mother’s Day gift one year in my yard. He liked to make things with his hands and give them to people, like birdhouses. If somebody was short of food, he would make sure they had food. He just was a nice guy, good disposition. He just loved life. He loved to fish. He mostly always had a smile on his face and pretty blue eyes.
It wouldn’t have mattered what had happened, Michael wouldn’t have taken his own life.
What got Michael in trouble a lot of times was his smile. Michael just always had a smile and people would take it wrong. … The arresting officer told investigators that Michael was polite, said he was the first person he arrested who was nice, cordial and did everything he was supposed to do.
All they kept asking was, ‘Is Michael depressed? Was he worried about stuff?’ And I’m going, ‘No. He’s just happy. He was enjoying life.’
I knew my son well enough. It wouldn’t have mattered what had happened, Michael wouldn’t have taken his own life. I want some justice for my son. It just doesn’t make any sense. I’m trying to do my best and let God handle this but it’s hard.”
John Paul: “My brother’s nickname was ‘Pride,’ because he had so much of it. ... He was the life of the party. Everybody loved my brother. He was just happy-go-lucky. … Me, I’m up and down with it. I don’t want to talk to people. I miss him so much. We had plans, me and my brother. … We just want to know why they would do something like that. In my heart, I know my brother did not kill himself.”
Emily McKernan: “We would have had our 2-year anniversary last week. ... He helped me get through some very rough, low times in my life that were caused by my past. He pushed me through it, to get better and better every day. His number one rule that he would tell anybody, was that if you have children, then suicide is not an option. You cannot think about yourself any more. That was his big, big thing, and he would say that to anybody and everybody.
There is no security in knowing that if Mike can go to jail and never come home again for jaywalking, just imagine what something arrestable would feel like. Emily McKernan, Michael Paul's girlfriend
If I had to take a guess, I would say they pushed something too far and didn’t know what to do, so they had to cover it up somehow. Mike was just not the kind of man who would go down easy.
I feel like I’m stuck in my nightmare, because none of it is possible. … There is no security in knowing that if Mike can go to jail and never come home again for jaywalking, just imagine what something arrestable would feel like.
I’ve spoken to one of the sheriffs. I told him, ‘You guys got nothing from that day, nothing that will give you a promotion. But I go to bed every night by myself. I wake up every morning alone. Utilities are getting shut off.’ And he just said, ‘I’m sorry about your loss.’”
The San Bernardino County Sheriff declined to release additional information about Paul’s case, citing an ongoing investigation.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.