Letter: Request to CA Senator Aisha Wahab to Initiate an Investigation of Santa Rita Jail

By Malik and Gale Washington

Dear Senator Wahab,

The citizens of Alameda County appreciate the tireless efforts and work you and the other committee members do for them and the community.

Destination Freedom is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of prisoners housed inside U.S.jails and prisons.  It is our position that the voices of individuals housed at Santa Rita Jail are routinely neglected and unheard and were not and are not currently fairly and justly represented class members by Rosen, Bien, Galvan, & Grunfeld, LLP in the Babu case.

As advocates, we are also closely monitoring the actions of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors (AC BOS) regarding the implementation of AB 1185, Alameda County Sheriff’s Oversight Committee.  Enclosed is a copy of our article, The Struggle for Oversight of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Continues.

We are of the opinion that because the AC BOS has a strong loyalty to the ACSO and County Counsel, any oversight committee appointees appointed by the AC BOS will not truly function as an advocate for Alameda County community members and those inside Santa Rita Jail (SRJ).  Further, because AC BOS has no authority over ACSO, any recommendations made by the oversight committee – should the AC BOS ever agree to the oversight committee recommendation(s) – they have no standing to force ACSO to follow through on or make there commended changes of the oversight committee. The AC BOS has not even considered the recommendations of the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury (twice) to implement a code of conduct, ethics policy, and whistleblower program for all county officers and employees.

For the reasons stated above, we are respectfully requesting that your Public Safety Committee commence an investigation into the lack of motivation and willingness by the AC BOS and County Counsel to create provisions within AB 1185 to empower the oversight committee to investigate claims (without providing a copy of the complaint to the Sheriff), provide independent counsel not affiliated with County Counsel, require the production of evidence (not hide behind the Babu Stipulated Protective Order for SRJ detainees), and should the AC BOS not accept the recommendation(s) of the oversight committee (given solid evidence of wrongdoing), give them the authority to bring the matter to the attention of your Public Safety Committee and/or the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.

From the many deaths which have happened at SRJ since 2014, the community members and constituents of Alameda County deserve fair and equal treatment under the law and not have their constitutional rights violated at the hands of ASCO.  The mere fact that Sheriff Sanchez is also the Coroner smells of cover up and strong lack of accountability/transparency.  Why would anyone think that if any one or more of her deputies actually injured, killed, maimed, mistreated an inmate which caused that person to commit suicide, or denied any inmate of their medication or needed treatment which caused their death, do you honestly believe that Sheriff Sanchez would make that admission?  No.

On February 7, 2022, the Babu Consent Decree was implemented at SRJ.  One of the key issues that brought about the Consent Decree in the first place was the high rate of in-custody deaths at SRJ. Here is a list of the human beings who have died at SRJ since the implementation of the Babu Consent Decree:

Leonard Brown                           3/16/22

Jose “Nick” Pena Cardenas            6/7/22

Ali Muhammad                          10/24/22

Nelson Chia                               10/28/22

Stephen Lofton                          1/17/23

Charles Johnson                         2/4/23

Elizabeth Laurel                         2/13/23

Candice “Cody” VanBuren          2/28/23

Eric Magana                              4/27/23

Yuri Brand                                 9/13/23

Eric Johnson                               2/8/24

The first question that we have is what has changed?  California Senator Toni Atkins authored Senate Bill 519 with the intent of providing the community with transparency, accountability, and information when community members die inside county jails across the State of California. While housed at SRJ between March 21, 2022 and August 31, 2023, my partner and colleague, Keith “Malik” Washington filed numerous declarations with the Babu court requesting that an immediate independent investigation be conducted in regard to these specific deaths.  Senator Wahab, we ask that you touch base with Senator Atkins and tell us whether or not SB519 will be applied in a retroactive manner in order for the community to receive details about the deaths we listed above that happened at SRJ. Thus far, Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez has not been forthcoming with much information at all.

We are of the opinion that Sheriff Sanchez has and continues to cover up intentional acts or possible errors made by her deputies which have caused the majority of these SRJ deaths since 2014.  The perfect example is the case of Maurice Monk.  Those deputies should have been charged at the very least with manslaughter (and never be allowed to work in any law enforcement capacity anywhere in the U.S.) who refused to open Mr. Monk’s cell door for 3 days to check on his wellbeing.  Furthermore, the contract of the jail medical provider, Wellpath, should have been discontinued or at the very least reviewed by the AC BOS.  As we believe the AC BOS has not reviewed the contract in light of the Maurice Monk incident.  This contract was for five (5) years at the rate of $250 million. The community saw on video a Wellpath nurse ignoring the needs of Maurice Monk while he lie in his cell motionless in his own body fluids. This act of deliberate indifference and medical neglect is reprehensible on many levels and illustrates a pattern of practice that begs the attention of this Public Safety Committee.

Another example is the beating of Malia Ashad in February 2024 by ACSO deputies at the courthouse.  It is clear from the video that these deputies intentionally wanted to and did injure Ms. Ashad, yet we are of the belief that these deputies are either still on the job or, if not, on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the litigation. Why are the rights of these deputies protected and allowed protection under the law and yet Ms. Ashad’s rights and protections were denied?

We also bring to your attention the case of Devin Williams, Jr., a former ACSO deputy who has been charged with the murders of his ex-girlfriend and her husband (the “Trans”), after clocking out from his shift at SRJ, going to her residence, and breaking into the Trans’ home, allegedly murdering the Trans.  Maria Tran, a nurse at John George Psychiatric Hospital, and her husband had a previous encounter with Mr. Williams where she had to contact law enforcement because he became erratic ringing her doorbell and wanting to speak with her in August 2022.  This was a month before the Trans’ deaths.  Law enforcement responded, but gave Mr. Williams “preferential treatment” because of his status as an ASCO deputy. Approximately a month later, the Trans were murdered. Not long after this incident, an audit of ACSO deputies were found to be “not suited” for work in law enforcement by a psychologist. ACSO Lt. Ray Kelly stated that “Williams’ arrest was the impetus behind the audit that resulted in 47 deputies placed on leave.”

Our organization was heartened to see the passage of SB 400.  We would like to know if this new piece of legislation will protect our community members from rogue officers like Mr. Williams who had prior issues in Stockton.   Along that same line of thought, perhaps the officer who shot and killed Niani Finlayson in Los Angeles would not have been a commissioned officer if SB400 was law at that time.  We’d like more clarification on the practical application of the law and how it can be utilized to protect our community members.

Furthermore, the City of Alameda just paid out over $11 million in settlement to the son of Mario Gonzalez for the death of his father by Alameda police. The Coroner reported that the cause of Mr. Gonzalez’ death was due to “toxic effects of methamphetamine” and related significant conditions though it was determined a homicide.  Though this was the Alameda Police Department, the issue remains that these officers who are sworn to uphold the law and protect the community continue to violate the laws of the State of California, but criminal charges are almost never brought.  If it were a citizen of this county, they would have immediately been charged with murder and sitting at SRJ pending trial.

Because of the alleged “preferential treatment” given by other law enforcement for Mr. Williams’ actions in August 2022, gives the appearance to the public that law enforcement is not held to the same rules of law that your average citizen is required to abide by.  This should not be the case.  We believe that if Mr. Williams was held accountable for his actions and at a minimum suspended for 30 days without pay plus be required to commit to a psychological evaluation to see if he should be returned to and fit for duty, the Trans would most likely still be alive.  Again, not the case.

These above examples are just four of many that cry out loud for a sheriff oversight committee which WILL provide the necessary protections and allow prosecution by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, if warranted by the evidence, of any ACSO deputy or other law enforcement officer who chooses to step outside the boundaries of their duties and the law.

At the end of the day, the humanity of our community members detained at SRJ is not being recognized.  In order to add substance and integrity to the investigation of these lost lives, we plead for the intervention of the state legislature’s Public Safety Committee.

We appreciate your review of this letter and our article.  Our hope is that your committee will investigate the allegations/recommendations above to bolster the provisions of AB 1185 to provide for the effective and thorough investigation of community complaints against ACSO deputies and/or other law enforcement officers.

About The Author

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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