Judge Does Not Consider COVID-19 to Be ‘Serious Issue’ Inside Pandemic-Ravaged San Quentin State Prison

By Alana Bleimann

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Christopher Hite Tuesday charged that San Quentin State Prison’s COVID-19 outbreaks are not a “serious issue” and Santana West would be better off living there than San Francisco County Jail.

The morning began with San Francisco Public Defender Kleigh Hathaway and Deputy District Attorney Courtney Burris entering the courtroom to begin debating Santana West’s current and prior cases.

West was present in court with Hathaway and is facing a life sentence after two prior convictions. In 1987, West was convicted of a robbery but more recently, in 2003, he was convicted of a serious sexual assault.

After both sides submitted paperwork and documentation to prove his convictions of these past crimes, Judge Hite found “the priors to be true beyond a reasonable doubt” and planned to set sentencing for later this month.

However, Hathaway opposed the sentencing happening so soon.

For safety reasons surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Hathaway did not want her client to be placed or passed through San Quentin State Prison and suggested moving the sentencing date farther back into the year would prevent this.

Since the start of the pandemic, San Quentin State Prison has been hit hard and many of their men suffered, or even died. By June 2020 there were about 344 COVID confirmed positive cases inside the prison, according to aDavis Vanguard article.

“The process of transferring incarcerated people from Chino, which had one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates, to San Quentin, which had no known cases, raises serious questions about CDCR’s management of the pandemic,” Senator Nancy Skinner of Berkeley said.

Their most recent outbreak was in August of this year when six men had been moved into isolation after showing symptoms. “Four of the six were symptomatic and confirmed positive for COVID-19 even though they had been vaccinated,” The Davis Vanguard reported in August.

With valid reasons, even West himself stated he would rather stay at the jail than be anywhere near San Quentin.

“Who knows where Mr. West will end up, but he will be passing through [San Quentin],” Hathaway argued to Judge Hite.

However, Judge Hite claimed that in San Quentin incarcerated individuals have a lot of time “out of the cell” in comparison to living in the San Francisco jail.

Judge Hite even went so far as to say that Hathaway’s concern is not a “serious, valid reason” for pushing the sentencing date back, especially when the victim has been waiting for so long.

Prosecutor Burris agreed with Judge Hite and argued that this case is seven years old and the victim is “anxious to see a resolution.

“We should trust the CDC and their protocols,” DDA Burris said, adding “they don’t send people over there if it’s not safe.”

After much debate Judge Hite allowed the sentencing to be pushed to December only if West agreed to show up and be fully present.

“I will… absolutely,” West replied.

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