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Santa Rita inmate killed by cellmate identified

An inmate at the behavioral health housing unit at Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin allegedly killed by his cellmate Tuesday was identified by sheriff’s officials as 73-year-old Dat Thanh Luong of Union City.

Deputies at the jail, the sixth-largest in the country currently housing 2,129 inmates, found Luong in his cell at Housing Unit 9 at about 8:50 a.m. Tuesday after other inmates told them that they heard a noise and he was lying on the floor, Sgt. Ray Kelly said.

Luong was pronounced dead at the scene. The victim’s cellmate, who was covered in blood, tried to flee but deputies were able to tackle him and detain him after a brief struggle, Kelly said.

The unit where Luong and the suspect were being held is a maximum-security unit for inmates with mental illness or behavioral problems.

Authorities aren’t yet releasing the suspect’s name because they’re having trouble communicating with him, Kelly said.

The suspect, who was arrested in Hayward last Thursday on suspicion of battery and making threats, is currently being held in an isolation cell away from the rest of the jail population while Alameda County prosecutors determine if he’s mentally competent enough to be interviewed about the incident, according to Kelly.

Luong was arrested in Union City in January on an assault with a deadly weapon charge, Kelly said. He had been scheduled to be taken to Napa State Hospital soon for a mental health evaluation.

Luong and the suspect are both Asian men who have mental health issues and authorities don’t believe the killing was racially motivated or gang-related, Kelly said.

It appears that no weapons were used and authorities believe Luong was either strangled or beaten to death, he said.

There were no indications that Luong and the suspect couldn’t be placed together and they’d only been in the same cell for a few days, Kelly said.

There only have been five inmate homicides in Santa Rita since the jail opened in 1989 and Luong’s death is the first homicide there since 2008, according to Kelly.

Most of the other inmate homicides also involved fights between inmates with mental health issues, Kelly said.

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