Crime, Law and Justice

Family seeks answers after inmate death in Anoka County jail

People in yellow hold signs
The family of Cristian Rivera-Coba display signs remembering him at a fundraiser Saturday. Rivera-Coba died while in custody at the Anoka County Jail on July 21, 2023. His death is under investigation.
Olivia Stevens | MPR News

The family of a 22-year-old Anoka County inmate who died in jail earlier this month wants to know more about what happened in the moments leading up to his death.

According to a statement from the Anoka County Sheriff's Office, Cristian Rivera-Coba of Minneapolis became unresponsive while being attended to by a detention deputy and medical staff on July 21.

“It's shocking — it happened all too fast. We don't have any answers,” Rivera-Coba's older sister, Yessenia, said. “The way he went just doesn't make sense to us.”

Rivera-Coba was booked into jail July 18 and charged with auto theft, fleeing police in a vehicle, and driving under the influence. Charges said he admitted to smoking Percocet pills with fentanyl shortly before he was pulled over.

“The jail and medical staff immediately requested assistance from Allina EMS and began actively administering life saving measures on the inmate,” the statement said. “Emergency responders escorted him to a local hospital where he sadly was later declared deceased.”

Rivera-Coba's family held a fundraiser Saturday in north Minneapolis to help with funeral costs. They cooked and sold pozole, ceviche and tacos out of their backyard.

They displayed signs of remembrance and a table with photos and family messages for Rivera-Coba. A pair of his shoes and flower bouquets were displayed underneath.

Yessenia and Rivera-Coba's mother, Obdulia Silveria-Coba, remember Rivera-Coba as an honest, open and caring brother and son.

“His smile was very contagious,” Yessenia said. “Nothing but laughs from him, all the time.”

Silveria-Coba said she doesn't understand why the family hasn't received more information from officials about how Rivera-Coba died. Her interview was translated from Spanish.

“I want them to tell me what happened,” she said, choking back tears. “I have many questions for the officials. And I want them to respond to all of them.”

The Sherburne County Sheriff's Office is leading the investigation and the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office will determine the cause of death.