Activists Warn of Deadly COVID Outbreak at Sacramento Jail; Accuse Officials of Covering Up the Outbreak

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – Activists gathered in front of the county government building in Sacramento on Tuesday to protest conditions inside the Sacramento County Jail, which activists from Decarcerate Sacramento say has returned to pre-pandemic levels.

One person has reportedly died, and there are currently 75 reported cases in Sacramento County jails. Advocates say that case numbers are being underreported and the county is misrepresenting the truth about what is currently unfolding.

Khalil Ferguson said that as we are returning to normality, “human beings at the county jail are still facing deplorable conditions, that have only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He decried the lack of “basic cleaning supplies and medical care.”

Khalil Ferguson

While there are at least 75 cases—a number he believes is underreported—he noted that “contrary to the official county reports and recent media coverage of the outbreak, many of the COVID-19 cases so far are in fact fully vaccinated.”

Ferguson said, “While the Sacramento Sheriff’s department is reporting zero COVID-related deaths, advocates are hearing reports from incarcerated workers inside that someone was found dead in their cell around 1 AM on Thursday, October 21.”

He said, “This is a public health crisis and we need all hands on deck.  The people inside the jail, the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney and the courts should be working collaboratively to protect the rights and dignity of people awaiting trial during a pandemic.”

He added, “82 percent of the incarcerated in Sacramento County Jail are legally innocent” and yet are being denied “their medications, access to soap, and adequate toilet paper.”

Jael Barnes, an organizer for Decarcerate Sacramento, said “despite what they have told us, they have no real plans to keep these folks safe.”  She added, “Let’s remember that at the end of the day, there are jail staff coming in and out of the jail, bringing this virus to their family, random people, they encounter.”

Her husband is one of the folks in the Sacramento Jail.

Jael Barnes

“We’re fighting for our lives in here,” Jamaine Barnes told his wife. He explained to advocates that his entire pod at the Main Jail has now tested positive for COVID-19. They continue to be denied basic supplies like soap and sufficient amounts of toilet paper. “Just because we are in jail doesn’t mean that our well being is less important than any other human being,” he said.

“He hasn’t been to court since Halloween 2019,” Jael said.  Each time he gets a date, “once that day starts to approach the date gets put off.”

She said, “My husband went into that facility with nothing other than severe anxiety, but now he has asthma. He has contracted COVID twice.”

She said, “He has COVID as we speak and is vaccinated, but still is sick due to his breathing problems.”

When he contracted COVID, they moved him to Eight East, of which she said “it’s actually solidary confinement.”  She said, “I thought it was like a medical unit or something. So after 24 hours of not being out of his room or being able to call his family or anything like that, he was then moved to Four East where they are housing people with COVID.

“Our five-year-old son said just recently, ‘I hope my dad doesn’t die,’” she said.  “Can you all imagine a kid thinking about that?”

Dr. Corinne McIntosh is a licensed clinical psychologist and organizer for the Mental Health Coalition.

She said, “Let’s talk about the public health epidemic that is the Sacramento County Jail system operated under the Sheriff’s Department. They failed to provide constitutionally required mental health and medical care to people in the jail.”

She added, “They employ harsh and extreme forms of solitary confinement. They fail to implement essential suicide prevention measures, and they discriminate against people with disabilities.”

All of this, she said, is well documented in the May Consent Decree about which the Board of Supervisors will be having a closed session with legal counsel this afternoon.

Another organizer read a statement from Jasmine Stevens, who lost her husband inside this jail in February of 2021.

She said, “The coroner is trying to say that my husband died from complications to his heart, which I feel is a complete lie. He died from COVID-19, which gave him complications with his heart. I know for a fact that my husband tested positive and he was not having his medical conditions met in that horrible place.”

Courtney Hansen reads a statement

She said, “It’s unconscionable how these people are trying to cover it up. It’s truly despicable. That loved ones to the inmates like me are not getting the proper closure because we don’t know the truth. If there’s one thing I know, lying always comes full circle. So when this blows up in the Sacramento County Jail system’s face because they’re lying and covering up something, that is unconscionable.”

“Expert compliance reports and testimony from people inside the jail have made it clear that medical and psychiatric staff procedures need urgent change to prevent more jail deaths,” said Dr. Christina Bourne, MD, MPH, a Family Doctor and Psychiatrist, who has worked inside the Main Jail. “This is a moment where Mays’ plaintiff’s counsel can and should demand mass releases” she stressed.

“For years, our county leadership has known of the need to dramatically reduce the Sacramento jail population for the safety and well-being of our community. The need to reduce the jail population becomes more and more urgent every day,” Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and co-founder of Decarcerate Sacramento.

She added,  “It should be all hands on deck: the people inside the jail, their legal counsel, the Sheriff Department, the District Attorney, and the court should be working collaboratively to protect the rights and dignity of people awaiting trial during a pandemic. People’s lives are in the balance.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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