Bay Area Civil Rights Organizations Release a Joint Statement After the 4th Death at Santa Rita Jail in 6 Weeks

By Patty Yao

Dublin, CA. – Cody Vanburen, 33, dies at Santa Rita Jail after suffering a medical emergency. This marks the 4th death at Santa Rita Jail in the past 6 weeks. 


A day after he was admitted into Santa Rita Jail for a term of “post-release community supervision” after serving a 2 year sentence for felony vehicle theft, Vanburen was found unresponsive during a wellness check. According to a source for KTVU, he “overdosed on an extremely powerful amount of fentanyl.” The prison staff administered 5 doses of Narcan with no success. 


Vanburen had admitted to using drugs at his initial medical screening, but the sheriff stated there was “no cause for concern.” He was also the only person in his cell.


In recent years, Santa Rita Jail has come under widespread public scrutiny for inhumane conditions as well as health and safety violations. In Feb. 2022, a federal judge placed Santa Rita Jail under external oversight until at least 2028. Vanburen’s death is the 4th to occur at the Alameda County Jail in less than 2 months.


Bay Area civil rights organizations Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Oakland Rising, Urban Peace Movement, Human Impact Partners (HIP), Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) issued the following joint statement following Cody’s death:

“We are heartbroken and enraged to hear of yet another death related to Santa Rita Jail (SRJ), the deadliest place in Alameda County. For years, advocates have called out the level of abuse, neglect, death, and cruel punishment inside Santa Rita Jail. We have stood alongside families who have lost loved ones at the hands of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) and called for transparency, diversion, and accountability — yet these calls have been met with inaction.

“The Alameda County Board of Supervisors has refused to take action to hold the ACSO accountable while over 60 people have lost their lives while in Sheriff’s custody over the past 9 years, including Dujuan Armstrong, Christian Madrigal, Raymond Reyes, and Nick Piña. Instead of putting resources into community-based alternatives like mental health programs, the settlement in Babu v. Ahern only increased funding for a jail that is rife with negligence and corruption. Alameda County voters hoped the election of Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez would bring meaningful change to SRJ, but the death of Cody and three others in six weeks alone tells us that nothing has changed.

“We know, and it has been proven, that throwing more money and resources at Santa Rita Jail and ACSO is not a solution. The only solution is to significantly decrease the jail population, divest from the ACSO and SRJ, and put those resources back into the community. People deserve to be met with social services, affirming care, and support.

“The death of Cody is particularly heartwrenching, as he was coming home and on his way out of Alameda County’s murderous carceral system. Enough is enough. 

“In 2018, beloved community member Dujuan Armstrong was asphyxiated by sheriff deputies. Since then, Dujuan’s mother, Barbara Doss has been demanding accountability from the jail and the sheriff’s office. As new District Attorney Pamela Price opens the case in the death of Vinetta Martin in Santa Rita, lives continue to be lost. We need to come to terms with the fact that Santa Rita Jail must be shut down and replaced with a system of transformative justice that takes everyone’s humanity into account. #FreeSRJ

Murong (Patty) Yao is a current fourth year at UC Berkeley majoring in Political Economy and minoring in Public Policy. This is her third semester at the Vanguard at Berkeley, and she is the current Prison Reform Desk Editor. She’s from Allentown Pennsylvania.

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