Family of gay son demands formal inquest into his death

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday February 7, 2023
Share this Post:
The family of Jaxon Sales is demanding city and state officials compel San Francisco's chief medical examiner to open an inquest into the young man's 2020 death. Photo: Courtesy Sales family
The family of Jaxon Sales is demanding city and state officials compel San Francisco's chief medical examiner to open an inquest into the young man's 2020 death. Photo: Courtesy Sales family

The family of a gay 20-year-old Korean/Filipino man found dead in a San Francisco high rise nearly three years ago are demanding several local and state law enforcement officials call for a formal inquest into his death.

Jaxon Sales died March 2, 2020 in the Rincon Hill apartment of a 41-year-old man, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. But his death was deemed accidental by officials and wasn't investigated at the time by police as possibly a homicide.

The Sales family wants the death of Jaxon Sales be looked into as potentially a homicide. They are calling on California Attorney General Rob Bonta, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu, and San Francisco Police Chief William Scott to "compel the San Francisco Medical Examiner to fully investigate the circumstances of their son's death."

A representative for the Sales family provided the B.A.R. with an advance copy of their statement ahead of its release Tuesday.

San Francisco Police Chief William Scott told the B.A.R. January 26 that the "investigation is closed."

"There has not been any criminal filing from the investigation," the chief added.

However, when asked to confirm Scott's comments, Officer Robert Rueca, an SFPD public information officer, stated February 6, "The chief may have been referring to a different case, but this investigation is still open."

Last January — before the Sales family spoke extensively to the press about their desire to see the investigation opened — the police department had told the B.A.R. that it did not intend to open an investigation on account of the medical examiner's office not suspecting foul play.

"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 in January 2022. "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 added. "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."

Medical examiner's report

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.

However, Jaxon Sales' family contends that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner did not do its due diligence in investigating the death.

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 said is discriminatory, and which was previously reported by the B.A.R.

When reached by the B.A.R. last year, a spokesperson for the medical examiner's office neither confirmed nor denied the GHB statement was made to Jaxon Sales' parents but said that an individual's sexual orientation does not influence their medical determination.

While GHB is used recreationally by some gay men, it has also been linked to date-rape and murder.

David Serrano Sewell, a straight ally who is executive director of the medical examiner's office, stood by the agency's findings.

"In [the] case of Mr. Sales, the OCME conducted a full forensic investigation, including complete autopsy and post-mortem toxicology testing," he stated. The chief medical examiner carefully reviewed these records and the investigative file and again confirmed the certification of cause of death as acute mixed drug toxicity; there was no evidence of life-threatening traumatic injuries or natural disease.

"As to the serious allegation that OCME staff were biased against Mr. Sales because of his sexual orientation and that it impacted the OCME's approach to or findings in the case, OCME does not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our office or in our work," Serrano Sewell continued. "A decedent's sexual orientation, race, religion, gender identity, or other factors do not influence our medical death investigations, findings, or conclusions."

Glenn D. Magpantay, an attorney for Jaxon Sales' parents, made the request on their behalf pursuant to a little-known provision of California law known as an inquest.

According to the release, "The parents demanded that the inquest must be without prejudicial LGBTQ bias to determine whether Jaxon's 'death was caused by the criminal act of another' as required by the inquest law."

Magpantay did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the release, further bolstering the parents' petition is the fact that the San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was not accredited and "conducted several faulty investigations during the time in which it considered Jaxon's death."

According to a December 15, 2022 news release from City Administrator Carmen Chu's office, the medical examiner's office achieved full accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners in December 2022. Its accreditation had lapsed in 2017, the release stated. It received provisional accreditation in 2021, which was good for a year.

The Sales family's petition for the inquest states, "The lack of a proper investigation resulted in the inability to determine whether Jaxon's death was caused by a criminal act of the white man who may have lured Jaxon to his apartment." Because the OCME attributed Jaxon Sales' death to an accident, the police could not conduct a criminal investigation into his death, over nearly three years ago. Absent a conclusive investigation, the district attorney has been unable to prosecute those responsible for Jaxon Sales' death, the release stated.

Angie Aquino-Sales, Jaxon Sales' mother, stated in the release, "We have been pleading with San Francisco officials to know the truth behind the death of our son and to hold those responsible for his death accountable so that justice is served for the irreplaceable loss of Jaxon."

The release went on to draw a parallel to the case of Ed Buck, a gay West Hollywood businessman and political donor who was convicted in the drug deaths of two Black men. Buck was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison last year.

"Jaxon's death is a San Francisco Asian version of the Ed Buck case, where a white gay man was convicted of drugging, sexually assaulting, and killing young gay Black men," the release stated. "The case has generated media attention with an article in BuzzFeed and a petition with 147,024 signers."

Magpantay stated in the release, "The deaths of LGBTQ people of color are too often under-investigated or ignored.

Chiu stated, "Jaxon's death is a horrible tragedy, and I want to express my deepest condolences to his family and loved ones. We will be reaching out to our client departments on this matter."

The city attorney's office represents city departments.

Bonta's press office stated, "We're unable to provide legal advice or analysis. Local authorities would be best positioned to comment on the matter at this point in time."

The San Francisco DA's office did not respond to requests for comment for this report as of press time.

The GLBTQ+ Asian Pacific Alliance, or GAPA, joined the Sales family in holding a vigil outside San Francisco City Hall on February 26, 2022, which was attended by more than 80 people, as the B.A.R. previously reported. At the time of the vigil, Scott said he would like to meet with the Sales family, and the meeting was being facilitated by the city's human rights commission, but the Sales family did not say whether the meeting had ever happened. Scott confirmed to the B.A.R. last month that he did have the chance to meet with them.

GAPA did not respond to a request for comment for this report.

The Sales family's release noted that "hundreds of LGBTQ activists" from across the nation will be in San Francisco beginning late next week for the National LGBTQ Task Force's Creating Change conference.

Updated, 2/7/23: This article has been updated with comments from the medical examiner's office and other agencies.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.