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.

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“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.