The family of a San Quentin inmate contracted the coronavirus has filed the first death lawsuit against the California penitentiary system in connection with the pandemic, citing botched rendition of infected prisoners as the cause of death.
Daniel Ruiz, 61, is one of 27 inmates and employees who died of virus-related illnesses after San Quentin, California's oldest prison, received 121 referrals from the California men's institution in Chino, which became a breeding ground for the virus.
Civil rights attorneys for Ruiz's three children and his mother filed a legal claim on Thursday that is a precursor to a lawsuit alleging the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Accused of Unlawful and Unconstitutional Death. Approximately 2,237 San Quentin inmates tested positive for the virus while no one had tested positive before the May 30 transfer.
At the time of the move, Chino Prison reported more than 600 cases of the coronavirus and nine COVID-19 deaths. During a state hearing, a federal monitor monitoring inmates' health in California prisons had been three or four weeks since some of the transferred inmates had been tested.
“The people in our prisons are people. Many who died in San Quentin had committed nonviolent crimes and should have returned to their families soon, ”said Ruiz family lawyer Michael Haddad. "It is tragic and unacceptable that some prison bureaucrats treated them as less than humans."
While San Quentin is known as the home of California's death row, it is also home to many junior offenders. Haddad said Ruiz had time for a small drug crime. In March, he was informed that he could be released early as a nonviolent offender under his legal right of good behavior.
But on July 11th he died. According to Haddad, Ruiz is among the 40,000 high-risk inmates held in California prisons for asthma and other health problems.
Due to corrective action, the Ruiz family did not learn that he had developed COVID-19 and was hospitalized for two weeks when he was near death, lawyer Julia Sherwin said.
"Daniel suffered alone while the CDCR kept his mother, children and siblings in the dark about his condition," she said.
About 288 law enforcement officers and medical staff in the Bay Area prison have tested positive for the virus. The deaths so far included 26 inmates and one employee, Sgt. Gilbert Polanco, 55, a veteran officer.
Governor Gavin Newsom has acknowledged that the chino inmates "should not have been transferred".
To contain outbreaks, Newsom has reduced the prison population by several thousand, including around 3,500 inmate releases, and pledged to release an additional 8,000. San Quentin had housed more than 3,000 people in open plains, according to the Ruiz family, which made it easier for the disease to spread.
Corrections officials knew the combination of cramped quarters and poor ventilation, along with older inmates and underlying health issues, meant a high risk of morbidity, the claim said. It is also alleged that proofreaders did not conduct proper testing.
After the massive outbreak, the chief medical officer for inmates was replaced across the state.