COVID-19 Uncertainty Keeps Defendant in Infested State Prison

By Jaden Jarmel-Schneider

CONTRA COSTA – For defendant Nah Duc Hoang, the uncertainty of COVID-19 cases in state prisons, not the merits of his case, kept him imprisoned for the time being.

In a hearing here to determine the possibility of Hoang’s release, Judge Wendy Coats, of the Contra Costa County Superior Court, refused to sign a removal order for Hoang, currently an inmate at the Avenal State Prison in Kings County.

The judge cited concerns that the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department raised about the worsening COVID-19 situation in the state prisons.

The removal order would relocate Hoang from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) facility to the Contra Costa County Jail, which is under the jurisdiction of the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department.

Judge Coats told Hoang and counsel that, although she has an understanding of the facts of his case, it is the sheriff’s position that before judges can sign removal orders, there must be a formal hearing about the factual status of the safety precautions in the facility from which the inmate is transferred.

The prosecutor in the hearing informed Judge Coats that a memo prepared by the Contra Costa Health Services Department had been shared with the District Attorney’s office, but she maintained that a future hearing was required to determine the status of COVID-19 in the Avenal facility, especially considering the ever-developing situation at different state prisons.

Although the sheriff has not announced this specific position regarding removal orders publicly, concerns about the effects of the pandemic on state prisons are rising statewide, especially after the alarming outbreak at San Quentin, another CDCR facility.

The CDCR COVID-19 dashboard, which includes daily reports of its 35 facilities across the state, confirms that there is good reason for concern about Avenal State Prison, which as of July 20 had the fourth most confirmed cases in the CDCR system.

According to the CDCR, Avenal State Prison has over 900 confirmed cases, 26 in the last 14 days, 4 deaths, and, importantly, has released 36 inmates who tested positive.

Contra Costa County has also seen a sharp uptick of confirmed cases since the beginning of July, according to the county’s Health Services website, with over 5,700 total cases, 115 of which in the last 24 hours.

Concerns for public safety remain an important top priority for public officials, but defendants like Hoang become collateral damage with this kind of unofficial mandate, which will keep Hoang in the Avenal State Prison until, at the very least, his next hearing.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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