By Cres Vellucci
The Vanguard Bureau Chief
DUBLIN, CA – A group of “alarmed” prisoner right’s advocates Tuesday demanded the Alameda Board of Supervisors conduct an immediate independent investigation into three deaths at the Santa Rita Jail since mid-November – seven death in 2021 – calling the in-custody deaths “untenable.”
The demand was made directly to the Board Tuesday in person, and in a letter was signed by Civil Rights Attorney Yolanda Huang, American Friends Service Committee’s John Lindsay-Poland, National Lawyers Guild-SF Executive Director Sarah Kershnar, Interfaith Coalition for Justice in Our Jail Chair Richard Speiglman and Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director on behalf of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children.
“We are alarmed at the unending number of deaths that occur in Santa Rita Jail. The most recent on December 13, 2021, in Housing Unit 1, the 7th this year, is the third death to take place in Santa Rita since mid-November. All three deaths involved men who were mentally ill, and we believe in the same housing unit,” said the group.
“The deaths of Maurice Monk and Devin West occurred around November 18, 2021. The third is a death that occurred on December 13, 2021,” the group chronicled.
Calling it an “untenable situation,” the advocates demanded an “independent investigation of these deaths, so that we the public, and you, the responsible government officials, can be fully informed of all the contributing factors to these deaths.”
The authors add that the probe needs to be independent because Sheriff Gregory Ahern “proposes that the jail be monitored by ‘experts’ he has chosen, he pays for and who he can fire at will. This is not accountability, nor does it bode well for successful reform.”
The advocates paint a dire situation at the jail, noting that while the Sheriff has classified the latest death as “unknown,” there was “no sign of suicide or foul play,” and that “community organizations and local attorneys have received calls from inmates” housed in that housing unit
The inmates told attorneys and community groups that “the person who died, was severely mentally ill, and had difficulty for quite some time, with the needs of daily living. The reports received state that the inmate who died on
December 13, 2021, was also not eating, or eating irregularly,” according to the statement, that added:
“All three (inmates who died), we believe, were housed in a maximum security, locked down housing unit that the
Sheriff holds mentally ill men…We received a report that in one instance, a deputy will order the inmate to ‘stay on your bunk,’ the deputy will then unlock the cell door, and ‘throw’ a food tray onto the ground, and then quickly lock the cell door,” the advocates explain.
“There’s no one to clean-up the cell of the uneaten food and dirty food trays, leading to an unsanitary accumulation of decaying food, mold in the cell, and the stink of the decay permeating the entire POD and negatively affecting all the prisoners housed there. There is also no verification of whether this inmate was eating, or how much. We do not know if this is the same person as the person who died,” the authors wrote in their letter to the Board.
“These deaths must stop. We recommend that you (the Board of Supervisors) retain a retired Alameda County Judge such as Ret. Gordon Baranco or Ronald M. Sabraw to conduct this investigation, so we can be assured that the investigation will be independent and thorough,” said the advocates.