Another Day – Another Death at Santa Rita Jail

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Still No Movement on the Police Oversight Committee Creation by the Board of Supervisors

Special to the Vanguard

Oakland, CA – “Starting the day with another Santa Rita jail death is not how we should be going into this ‘super’ weekend.”  KTVU Fox 2’s Lisa Fernandez broke news this morning of another death at Santa Rita Jail. This one happened within 28 hours of booking and is the 69th death in 10 years.

“The board of supervisors has the authority to push for better intake and care at Santa Rita, their delays in creating real oversight have life and death implications,” stated Jennifer Esteen, a psychiatric nurse running for the District 4 seat which is decided this March 5. “Our leadership is failing us again.”

In the last 10 years, the Santa Rita jail has seen almost 70 deaths, with 4 of those occurring in the first few weeks of 2023 alone—during Nate Miley’s leadership as Board President and public safety chair. And the county has paid out more than $34 million in lawsuits related to those deaths. Money that could be invested in community-based care, supportive house and job training programs.

“All circumstances surrounding this unfortunate situation need to be thoroughly investigated to determine why another inmate has succumbed while being held in our County Jail,” stated Dr. Harold Orr, the former clinical director at the Santa Rita Jail. “The inmate deaths are mounting and causation is not revealed. We need an independent group of multi-disciplined providers to be convened immediately to look into this matter before another person loses their life while in custody in our jail facilities.”

Calls for investigations and oversight have been ringing from advocates, community organizations and residents for years. In fact, just this October pastors, rabbis and faith leaders gathered to demand action now on the intake process at Santa Rita jail.

“We need to look into the protocols for jail medical staff immediately. For someone to have died so quickly indicates problems in the intake process, medical screening and with the regularity of visual and physical assessments,” said Esteen.

State law mandates that county boards of supervisors oversee sheriffs’ offices. AB 1185, which took effect in 2021, gave counties the authority to establish civilian oversight boards to assist supervisors in that role. But in Alameda County, implementation has been mired by bureaucratic delays and excuses.

“Our county’s supervisors are dragging their feet on creating an independent police oversight commission. The state passed AB 1185 in 2021 but implementation has not taken place three years later,” added Esteen. “The incumbent led the delay when he was chair of the public safety committee. People are dying in jail while these delays in implementation are taking place in boardrooms.”

Miley stated in a public forum, “I can take money for anyone and still vote against them.” Miley’s campaign has taken in more than $11,000 from the county sheriff’s union and within the last week received another $6,500 from local police unions and PACs.

“When delays in oversight continue and all the while, people are dying in custody, these contributions appear seriously problematic. We need leadership we can trust,” said Esteen.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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