In what the New York Times is calling "a rare step," Santa Clara County sheriff Laurie Smith arrested and filed murder charges against three of her corrections deputies following the discovery last week of a mentally ill inmate, 31-year-old Michael James Tyree, dead in his cell.

As KQED also reports, Tyree was covered in his own blood, vomit, and feces, killed by blunt force trauma according to the office of the coroner. “In short, he bled to death internally,” the coroner said.

Tyree was only to have been kept in the county jail briefly, serving a sentence for misdemeanor drug possession and petty theft, as he waited for a bed at a specialized holding facility for those with mental illness called Momentum for Mental Health.

The three deputies arrested — Matthew Farris, Jereh Lubrin, and Rafael Rodriguez — were relative newcomers to the force, with Lubrin's two and a half years the longest tenure of the group.

"As sheriff, it is my sworn duty and the sworn duty of every deputy and commander to follow every lead," said Sheriff Smith, "no matter where that lead takes the investigation to bring those we believe guilty to justice."

Stanford Law School professor Robert Weiberg, whose specialty is criminal justice, said the quickness and transparency of the department's actions are “extremely unusual.” Meanwhile Tyree’s family's attorney added that “The family is so grateful for the efforts to bring justice swiftly to those that caused Michael’s death,” she said after Smith’s statement.