Parents want gay son's SF death case reopened
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Almost 40,000 people have signed a petition asking San Francisco city agencies to reopen the investigation into the death of a 20-year-old gay man, while the offices in question deny accusations that they didn't do a thorough job.
Angie and Jim Sales launched the petition following the death almost two years ago of their son, Jaxon Sales. He died March 2, 2020 in a Rincon Hill apartment, according to a copy of the medical examiner's report obtained by the Bay Area Reporter.
The Sales family is alleging that the San Francisco Police Department and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner didn't do due diligence in investigating the circumstances of Jaxon Sales' death. They are currently "in the process" of securing an attorney and are planning on filing a complaint before March 2 of this year, according to Angie Sales.
The medical examiner's report lists the cause of Jaxon Sales' death as acute mixed drug intoxication, including gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, cocaine, and methamphetamine. The manner of death is listed as an accident.
The report also says Jaxon Sales suffered from asthma, and the toxicology report shows Sales took ephedrine, an asthma medication, though this was not listed among the drugs to which death was attributed.
According to the medical examiner's report, on the evening of March 1, 2020, an acquaintance met with Jaxon Sales, a resident of Oakland, and another friend at his Rincon Hill apartment to have sex. The acquaintance's friend, whose name is not in the medical examiner's report, left the residence, leaving Sales with the acquaintance. The acquaintance, whose name is not in the medical examiner's report, said that at 6:30 a.m. he heard Sales snoring on the bed, but as he was getting ready for work an hour later he tried to awake Sales but was unsuccessful.
Emergency services were called, and Sales was pronounced dead at 7:52 a.m. Sales was found lying on the floor face-up.
Officer Adam Lobsinger, a public information officer with the SFPD, told the B.A.R. in a statement that after an investigation, the agency didn't find evidence of a homicide.
"On 3/2/ at approximately 7:53 a.m. officers responded to the 300 block of Fremont St. regarding a report of a deceased person," Lobsinger stated. "Officers arrived on scene and met with medics who were on scene and declared an adult male deceased inside a residence. Officers conducted an investigation and did not find evidence of foul play. The medical examiner arrived on scene and conducted an investigation."
The Sales family states that Jaxon Sales had texted at 11 p.m. the previous night that he'd be home that night.
"Jaxon never came home from that date," the petition states. "Every parent's nightmare became our reality. We were told to wait for the police and medical examiner's reports to get any information. Those reports were finally sent to us months later after repeated follow-up. Only then did we learn that our vibrant, hardworking, gay, Asian American son was found naked and dead in the bed of a 41-year-old white male whom Jaxon did not know."
According to the Sales family, an official with the medical examiner's office told them "no investigation is needed as 'the gay community uses GHB,'" a statement they say is discriminatory.
"We believe that if Jaxon was heterosexual, both the SFPD and the SF OCME would have fully investigated the circumstances of our son's death," the petition states.
The petition goes on to state that the Sales family wants the medical examiner's office and the police to reopen the case to investigate several issues they say are unresolved, including but not limited to why the acquaintance showered and cleaned his residence before calling 911, why nobody was questioned about possessing illegal drugs, why the mutual friend of Sales and the acquaintance were not questioned.
The family also alleges that the acquaintance's apartment was the site of another overdose just prior to Jaxon Sales' death.
"When Jaxon's uncle picked up Jaxon's belongings at the SF OCME on March 3, 2020, the representative at the office told him about another overdose (non-fatal) at that male's apartment only one week prior to Jaxon's," the petition states. "A recent prior overdose in that apartment raises a huge red flag. Why hasn't that overdose victim been questioned?"
The family also wants the police to investigate any connection between the acquaintance and the owner of a phone number who exchanged 38 texts with Jaxon Sales the day before his death.
Angie Sales told the B.A.R. that they only decided to start the change.org petition after not getting satisfactory responses from authorities.
"We tried for so long this past year to get the agencies to work with us to reopen the case," she said.
She said that the family felt the petition could rally the public to put pressure on the city to do that.
"We had done this for so long alone that we felt sharing his [Jaxon Sales's] story would allow us to honestly get support in places and from people we didn't know existed," Angie Sales said. "We saw from other petitions just how much public support there can be in cases like this."
"I felt we did this for so long alone, trying to get our answers, and we were refused any real investigation and had no communication at all," she added. "Nobody replied after repeated follow-ups, then when they did, they said they wouldn't investigate."
GAPA, the GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Alliance, sent an email to supporters promoting the petition.
"Jaxon deserves justice, not just to have the suspicious circumstances of his death left as unanswered questions," the email states. "We agree that SF OCME's verbal statement that no further investigation is needed as 'the gay community uses GHB' is discriminatory based on Jaxon's sexual orientation. We also agree that the death of a gay Asian male deserves and should receive the same scrutiny as in any other sudden or suspicious death."
Police, medical examiner say investigation was thorough
The B.A.R. put the Sales family's questions to the police and the medical examiner.
Officer Robert Rueca, another public information officer with the SFPD, did not answer the questions specifically, but gave a blanket statement that the department is not going to conduct a criminal investigation in these circumstances, because the medical examiner's office didn't suspect foul play at any point.
"This death investigation is led by the [office of the chief medical examiner] and they determine the cause of death (i.e. overdose, etc.) for death investigations. We do not conduct a criminal investigation if there is no evidence of foul play, which we investigate at every scene of a death," Rueca stated. "If the OCME suspects foul play at any point in their investigation, our investigators would conduct a homicide investigation.
"For this death investigation officers did not find evidence of foul play during the initial investigation and the OCME did not find evidence of foul play," Rueca stated. "If there was an overdose in the same location that did not result in a death or involved a crime, medics may have responded to this. We do not investigate or respond to medical calls."
David Serrano Sewell, the chief operating officer at the medical examiner's office, wouldn't confirm or deny "the gay community uses GHB" remark, but denied that Jaxon Sales' sexual orientation was a factor in determining the death was not a homicide.
"The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner expresses our deepest condolences to the family of Jaxon Sales," he stated. "The OCME conducted a thorough forensic investigation to certify the cause and manner of death in this case with the highest degree of competence, professionalism, compassion, and consistent with state law. A decedent's sexual orientation, race, religion, or other factors do not influence our death investigations or conclusions. Details of our analysis are in the business records that we provided to you, and we have no further information to share."
Sewell stated he could not answer the other questions "as they are outside the scope of our forensic death investigation."
District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, a straight ally in whose district Sales died, told the B.A.R. January 31 that his office reached out to the family.
"We reached out to the family and Honey Mahogany from my office met with them today," Haney stated. "The family is understandably very distressed by the lack of follow up and lack of answers. We are reaching out to all the city departments involved, and I will do everything I can to support the family in getting answers for their son and a full investigation."
Mahogany, a queer, nonbinary trans person who is a legislative aide to Haney, told the B.A.R. that "I would hope that at least in San Francisco, someone's sexual orientation doesn't automatically rule them out as a potential victim of sexual assault."
"I am deeply sorry for the horrific experience the Aquino-Sales family is going through," Mahogany stated, referring to Angie Sales' maiden name. "I think that their questions and frustrations with how their son's case has been handled are completely understandable. It does not seem that this case has received the scrutiny it should have given the circumstances of his death."
Mahogany believes that the family needs their questions answered so that everyone can have a clear picture of what happened that night. Referring to the potential of a sexual assault, she stated, "I'm not saying this is what has happened here."
"But it's very clear to me that at the very least there should have been some basic investigation work and follow up," Mahogany continued. "I'm not sure why they would not more thoroughly investigate the death of a young person who died in someone else's bed with GHB in his system. Just because the drug has been used recreationally by some, does not negate the fact that this is also commonly known as the date-rape drug. We will do everything we can to help the family get the answers they deserve."
In response to these statements, Jim Sales said, "It's the same blanket statement they gave us when we met with them — even down to the condolences."
Angie Sales said the statements were "not acceptable."
"Our goal is a proper and thorough investigation," she said. "We want to know what happened to our son, period, but we also want an investigation because it's what's right for Jaxon, when someone dies."
Anyone with information is asked to contact the SFPD at 415-575-4444 or Text a Tip to TIP411 and begin the message with SFPD.
Updated, 2/2/22: This article has been updated with comments from Honey Mahogany. It was also updated to include more info from the medical examiner's report.
Updated 2/8/22: This article has been updated to clarify that Jaxon Sales went to the apartment of an acquaintance. A friend of the acquaintance's was also there.
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