[Pnews] Another Suicide at Santa Rita Jail Sparks Cry for Sheriff Oversight in Alameda County

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 22 14:38:54 EDT 2021


https://www.davisvanguard.org/2021/04/another-suicide-at-santa-rita-jail-sparks-cry-for-sheriff-oversight-in-alameda-county/
Another
Suicide at Santa Rita Jail Sparks Cry for Sheriff Oversight in Alameda
County
By Bob Britton - April 21, 2021
------------------------------

*By Bob Britton*

*Bob Britton, an activist with the Interfaith Coalition for Justice in Our
Jails part of Faith in Action East Bay and a member of the County Justice
Involved Mental Health Task Force. He is a retired union executive who
previously represented the Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and
Public Defender Attorneys.*

Add another in-custody death to the staggering toll at the Alameda County
Jail. Since 2014, 50 people have died at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, the
highest death toll of any jail in the Bay Area. On April 2 an incarcerated
female took her own life, the second suicide in less than two months. The
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) refuses to release the name of the
deceased woman, why she was in custody or the means she used to take her
own life. In Alameda County the Sheriff is also the Coroner.

This April 2 death would not have been known if not for a filing in a
federal civil rights lawsuit, Babu v Ahern. This and other recent deaths
have gone unannounced, a cause for concern in the litigation. In an April 9
court hearing plaintiff’s counsel, Kara Janssen, implored the judge to have
the Sheriff make more information public and not have the community learn
only through court filings.

ACSO policies require notification to the President of the Board of
Supervisors and the Attorney General. Government Code Section 12525
requires the agency to report to the Attorney General all known facts
concerning the death. The law declares all such reports public records
under the California Public Records Act, excluding confidential medical
information. Yet the Sheriff no longer announces such deaths.

Only seven weeks prior on February 9, Jonas Park, died by suicide. This too
was not announced by ACSO. It was discovered a week later by an alert
reporter reading of it in a criminal court filing. Park died just six days
after his arrest. The court record also revealed in Babu v Ahern that those
like Park are allowed only one hour per week out of their cell into the
adjacent day room or to shower.

Last June, Donald Nelson died of injuries received from an alleged beating
by his temporary cellmate while awaiting booking. ACSO never reported the
beating or resultant death
<https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/11/23/a-man-was-beaten-to-death-in-santa-rita-jail-months-ago-and-officials-never-announced-it/>.
The murder was also only discovered in court filings when the assailant was
charged. Nelson was found unconscious in a holding cell in the busy booking
area of the jail with his cellmate “repeatedly stomping” his head. He
suffered a brain bleed, a broken spine and other serious injuries which led
to his death. Nelson was an elderly African American man, his alleged
murderer is white.
Donald Nelson, victim of an alleged attack while awaiting booking that left
him dead (Source: KTVU,
https://twitter.com/henrykleeKTVU/status/1334887818745692166?s=20) Howard
Blake, alleged assailant in the killing of Donald Nelson (Source: KTVU,
https://twitter.com/henrykleeKTVU/status/1334887818745692166?s=20)

When asked why the brutal beating in the busy front of the jail and
subsequent death were not reported, the Sheriff’s spokesperson said it
would have been, if only someone had filed a public records request for it.
Yes, if only we knew, we could have found out!

Alameda County has good reason to hide the number of in-custody deaths. A
report by television station KTVU
<https://www.ktvu.com/news/a-look-at-the-most-notable-police-payouts-in-the-bay-area>
shows taxpayers paid more in settlements and jury awards for wrongful
deaths and excessive force, $27.6 million since 2015 through the end of
last year, than any other police agency in the Bay Area. The County paid
out nearly five times as much as San Francisco ($2.6 million) and Oakland
($3 million) combined in the same period.

No amount of money can fully compensate for the loss of a loved one. Ask
the parents of Christian Madrigal who called 911 for help for their
20-year-old son who had ingested psychedelic mushrooms. They never expected
their call to result in his incarceration or death. The video of his arrival
<https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/06/30/body-cam-video-of-inmate-death-shows-little-resistance-from-mentally-ill-man/>
at Santa Rita shows a completely passive young man wrapped in a
straitjacket with his feet shackled and a mesh hood over his head. He was
removed like a sack of potatoes from the back of a patrol car. It was
decided to chain his hands and feet to the door of an isolation cell where
he hanged himself a short time later with the chains provided. Although
mental health professionals are on duty 24/7, not a single one is present
in the video. I imagine his family would gladly forgo the $5 million paid
by the County for his death if they could have him back home.

The Board of Supervisors takes no authority over the Sheriff yet pays
millions to settle such claims. The Board can change that by enacting the
provisions of a new state law, AB 1185
<https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB1185>,
that enables counties to establish a sheriff oversight board or an office
of inspector general, with subpoena powers. Witnesses can be called to
testify under oath and the Sheriff would have to turn over documents.

The Board of Supervisors bears the fiscal responsibility for the Sheriff’s
failures, but has a moral responsibility to the incarcerated too, as do we
all.

*It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its
jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens,
but its lowest ones.*
― *Nelson Mandela*

*______________________*

* Bob Britton, an activist with the Interfaith Coalition for Justice in Our
Jails part of Faith in Action East Bay and a member of the County Justice
Involved Mental Health Task Force. He is a retired union executive who
previously represented the Alameda County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and
Public Defender Attorneys. *
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