Sheriff ‘Lying’ about Sacramento Jail Conditions and COVID-19, Charge Inmates and Prisoner Advocates Sunday at ‘Die-In’

Photo credit: Karlos Rene Ayala

By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO – If comments here Sunday by medical professionals, community leaders, and those inside the Sacramento County main downtown jail are to be believed, the 2020 Pandemic known as COVID-19 is about to explode in Sacramento County’s two jails – and maybe, right in the face of Sheriff Scott Jones.

At least two female inmates spoke through demonstrators and family at the “socially-distanced” protest and die-in Sunday at the jail under the watchful eyes of Sheriff’s deputies.

Sheriff Jones was accused repeatedly of lying the public, and the news media about the safety of the jail from coronavirus.

But the revelations from two incarcerated women support interviews done several weeks ago by THE VANGUARD of male prisoners – that COVID-19 may be more widespread than Sheriff Jones claims, that conditions are ripe for virus spread amid poor treatment of prisoners.

The Sheriff is lying, said one speaker at the Decarcerate Sacramento-hosted demonstration, adding “We are demanding transparency. Acceleration of COVID-19 will happen sooner rather than later.”

Speakers read testimony from people incarcerated at Sacramento Main Jail and RCCC that directly contradicts the narrative made public by the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department – that the person who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month did not have contact with other people in the jail.

According to Ruth Keller, currently incarcerated in the downtown jail:

“They are lying, saying the person infected had no contact with another. Both her and the other incarcerated worker were handling our food and trays. She was borrowing books from folks and coming into direct contact with people..they wanted to ‘save space’ and literally moved her into the room with the person living next to her and they were together for a few days. She talked to officers with both parties wearing no protection. I have been asking to get tested ASAP, but nothing has been granted.”

Photo credit: Karlos Rene Ayala

Another letter from an anonymous inmate backed up Keller’s comments.

“We saw what Sheriff Jones said and posted on his Facebook page and none of his statement was true. In fact, the person who tested positive had contact with inmate workers, her cellmate, and some of the deputies. The infected inmate had direct contact with classification deputies. She had direct contact with the pod during her dayroom time, and she touched things in the dayroom such as the door, metal tables, etc. and you can review the cameras to verify.

“Hopefully, Chief Ramos and Sheriff Jones won’t alter the video footage or indicate that the cameras weren’t operable (most of the cameras are new, so there are no blind spots according to the deputies). The infected person had a cellmate who was released the day before her positive test came back. Her cellmate went home to her children, not knowing she could possibly be carrying the virus. That former inmate has now put her entire family and whoever she’s been in contact with in danger.”

That supports what THE VANGUARD learned weeks ago – that there may be other coronavirus patients in the county jails, where inmates are not being given protective equipment, like masks, and are living in squalid conditions.

A female inmate, learned THE VANGUARD, has also revealed – she was on the same floor as the COVID-19 inmate – that all prisoners are intermingled, according to her attorney Shari Rusk, who shared a Motion for Release she filed with THE VANGUARD,

The inmate’s family, as noted in a pleading filed in federal court by attorney Rusk, quotes the inmate as describing “overcrowding at the jail, with many inmates sick,” including an inmate complaining of flu symptoms who had to be removed by stretcher.”

The letter Sunday by the anonymous inmate continued, noting, “They said they are only testing people who have the symptoms of the virus, yet the infected inmate had no symptoms. The only reason she knew is because they recently started giving new arrivals the test to determine if they’re positive…The infected person has touched metal food trays that then travel through the hands of workers. By attempting to keep this outbreak a total secret, the Sheriff’s Department has just possibly infected this entire facility.

“There is no social distancing in here. People in various pods interact with each other, eating together, sometimes holding hands or joining in prayer, hugging, etc. At this point in time it’s so hard to determine who to test because the deputies have allowed the workers to roam around in too many directions, interacting with too many people, and those people interacted with others.”

Speakers included Sonia Lewis and Pam Emanuel, who have family members currently incarcerated in Sacramento jails. Emanuel played audio clips to the crowd of her mother’s recorded phone calls, talking about what it’s like to be trapped in the jail with underlying health conditions, “a total lack of disinfecting cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, and guards who believe your life doesn’t matter.”

Decarcerate Sacramento listed a demands for the jail, including transparency from the Sheriff’s Department, widespread testing for all who consent, cleaning supplies & personal protective equipment for incarcerated people, and the acceleration of releases “before it’s too late.”

Photo credit: Karlos Rene Ayala

Although the jail population has been reduced by 30 percent because of orders from the state judicial council and efforts of the county Public Defenders Office in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Decarcerate Sacramento said it is “not enough to prevent an uncontrollable outbreak, especially now that we have at least one confirmed case, and likely more.”

The rally Sunday also focused on jail conditions. Again, a letter written by an inmate noted:

“How many times have Chief Ramos and Sheriff Jones ate food with bugs in it? How many times have Chief Ramos and Sheriff Jones sat while their emergency fire sprinklers leaked everywhere, flooding their homes so badly that the ceiling caved in from dry rot foundation? There are lots of inmates who would like to speak up — stop putting us and our families in jeopardy. Please for God’s sake tell the truth.

“There are so many ongoing violations here regarding health conditions, the building code, fire sprinklers bursting twice. These have been leaking for well over 2 years and ignored by the deputies. They need body cameras and heavy monitoring by people who know what’s going on inside these walls. Why are we allowed to remain in unsafe and unhealthy conditions? Everyone wants answers and to be treated like humans and not like something that you can just throw away.”

The jail has said they quarantine people for seven days. But that’s not good enough, according to Decarcerate Sacramento in a statement.

“Quarantining individuals for 7 days in not a sufficient strategy for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 inside the Main Jail and RCCC,” said MK Orsulak, MD, MPH, a Family Medicine Doctor in Sacramento. “Taking the temperature of individuals as they are booked does not prevent COVID-19 from entering the jail. Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department must remember that people can carry the virus while being asymptomatic. Everyone who consents must be tested.”

“There is a long history of medical neglect inside the Main Jail that has allowed countless preventable deaths,” said Adam Jordan-Willis, co-founder of Anti-Police Terror Project. “If current actions of the Sheriff’s Department continue, it is only a matter of time before someone’s loved one contracts Coronavirus and dies from it.”

THE VANGUARD learned weeks ago in interviews with male inmates in both county jails nearly three weeks ago, it appeared COVID-19 has been lurking in the facilities for months.

Those incarcerated in the jails here confided to THE VANGUARD that inmates are suffering from fever, cough, and other classic symptoms of COVID-19 – and have been for months – but are not being tested for the virus, only given Tylenol, and otherwise forgotten. Inmates described grim conditions inside Sacramento’s two jail facilities for those why may have or have had COVID-19.

Prisoners said they’ve seen inmates who “collapse” in chow lines because of the illness – some never return, with one saying: “It’s real ugly here. I’ve seen folks collapse, falling down with fever in the chow lines. They’re just carried off, some return and some don’t. When they do come back they’re still coughing all over us.”

“I came down with something. Fever, cough, it hurt to take a breath, joints hurt so bad I couldn’t walk…and they just gave me a couple of Tylenol and an allergy pill a day – I had to buy more through our commissary,” said inmate Fred Garner, 50, who has underlying conditions of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and diabetes.

“Anyone who mentions the virus to the guards is ignored. Sometimes they quarantine people, but they push them right back here after a little while,” said Garner, who is facing marijuana sales and domestic violence charges – his wife recanted and said she was the aggressor, but the court wouldn’t release him from his $625,000 bail.

What precautions is the jail taking to prevent COVID-19 from taking hold?

“There’s fewer of us now, so we have more room. But social distancing? Ain’t no way to do it,” said Garner, describing the jail as a “petri dish,” adding “We try to stay apart but when we’re transported on the bus to court, we’re handcuffed together and stuffed into a holding cell,” said the father of five, and grandfather of six.

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About The Author

Veteran news reporter and editor, including stints at the Sacramento Bee, Woodland Democrat, and Vietnam war correspondent and wire service bureau chief at the State Capitol.

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