Judge Allows Aryan Brotherhood Leader to Sue Sacramento Jail over Buddhist Diet

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By Ethan Biando

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A federal judge has allowed an alleged Aryan Brotherhood leader housed at the Sacramento County Main Jail to sue Sheriff Scott Jones and a jail chaplain over the alleged restriction of his Buddhist diet, according to documents filed last month.

US Magistrate Judge Allison Claire recommended in court papers that the fifth claim of a handwritten lawsuit filed in March by Ronald Dean Yandell, currently held on federal charges at the Sacramento County Main Jail, should move forward because “incarcerated people do not forfeit their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.”

“On screening the court accepts the professed sincerity of plaintiff’s religious belief, as it must accept the truth of all factual allegations,” she wrote. “As plaintiff emphasizes in the SAC, a request for religious diet made for the first time after someone is in custody is not necessarily insincere.”

Another judge, John A. Mendez, would agree. A signed order from Mendez on September 24 tosses all claims from Yandell’s lawsuit except for the concern raised about his religious diet. Yandell had originally filed six claims, raising concerns like prolonged isolation, restricted visits, and inadequate outside recreation. The suit will proceed against Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones in his official capacity, as well as Terry Toliver, a jail chaplain.

Yandell claims Toliver dismissed his request for a vegetarian Buddhist diet in June of 2020 after subjecting him to a series of specific questions like “some kind of test,” even though Yandell isn’t required to explain his religion.

“After participating in his questioning from a Catholic chaplain concerning a religion not of his faith, he denied plaintiff’s request as insincere,” Yandell wrote.

Yandell was moved to the Sacramento County Main Jail from the Folsom State Prison in July of 2019 after he was indicted in several Aryan Brotherhood-tied federal cases involving several prison-originated plots.

The alleged illicit operations include fatal stabbings, racketeering, the smuggling of contraband including methamphetamines and sawblades, and murder. Yandell allegedly spearheaded a drug trafficking ring within prison walls using smuggled cell phones.

Yandell has previously accused prison officials of retaliation after he led a statewide hunger strike that helped end California’s implementation of solitary confinement as a punishment for gang membership. The 59-year-old has claimed that the federal charges are an attempt at “payback” for his hunger strike.

If Yandell is acquitted of his federal charges, he will return to state confinement to serve out his life sentence for the fatal shooting of two men following an argument at an El Sobrante home.

Ethan Biando is a freelance crime and courts reporter out of Sacramento, CA

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