To date, 27 inmates or employees at California’s notorious San Quentin Prison have died of COVID-19 complications. Among them was Daniel Ruiz, 61, whose family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state and its Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) on September 10. The claimants are his mother and three daughters.
Before May 30, no inmate at San Quentin had tested positive for coronavirus. That all changed when corrections officials decided to transfer 121 inmates from the California Institute for Men in Chino to San Quentin. The Chino facility had been the prison with the highest number of positive cases in the state. Already, nine prisoners had died from COVID-19, and more than 600 had been stricken.
After the transfer, San Quentin’s infection numbers skyrocketed, and it soon held the dubious distinction of the most infected correctional institution in California. So far, approximately 2,237 inmates have tested positive.
While San Quentin is home to many violent criminals, many low-level offenders serve out their time there as well. Ruiz fell into this category. He was in prison for a drug-related parole violation. When the pandemic started, in March, he was told that his good behavior made him eligible for early release.
He also suffered from health issues putting him at high risk for the disease, along with 40,000 other inmates in the state correctional system. His health issues included obesity, asthma, hepatitis, and lipidemia, along with his age, all major risk factors for death or serious complications from coronavirus.
Ruiz was approved for home release in early April. No such release occurred, and he lost to COVID-19 on July 11.
The men sent from Chino had not been tested for coronavirus for a few weeks before being put on buses and transferred to San Quentin. Some fell ill on the bus. Once they arrived at San Quentin, they were placed in the Badger unit, where cell tiers opened onto an atrium. The men were tested for coronavirus after their arrival, and many were positive.
The Chino transferees were eating in the same mess hall and using the same bathrooms as those men in the Badger unit. Within three weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases at San Quentin went from zero to nearly 500.
Public Health Expert Warning
In mid-June, a group of public health experts toured San Quentin and issued a dire warning. They said conditions at the prison created the risk of a “catastrophic super-spreader event.”
They noted there was a “grave” lack of personal protective equipment, including masks. Inmates were forced to improvise their own masks out of cloth. Staff and inmates were either not wearing masks, or not wearing them properly.
The experts also wrote they had spoken to various inmates over age 60 who had only weeks left on their sentences. “It is inconceivable that they are still in this dangerous environment,” according to the report. That description fits Daniel Ruiz perfectly.
Family Not Informed
Ruiz’s family was not informed that he had developed COVID-19. It was not until he was near death that someone from the prison let them know that he was sick and that it was serious. By the time they were told, he was on a ventilator. His family could not see him before his death.
Governor Gavin Newsom later admitted that the Chino inmates should not have been transferred to San Quentin. After the outbreak, he reduced the number of inmates in the facility, but it was too late for Daniel Ruiz.
Help for Inmates Who Died from Coronavirus
If you entered a jail or prison and already had coronavirus, there isn’t much we can do. Not unless the facility failed to provide adequate medical intervention. Although we haven’t seen the statistics, we believe that most inmates who contracted coronavirus received it while in jail. Those cases were largely preventable and inexcusable.
Without a true infection control plan, personal protective equipment, testing and cleaning protocols, we believe the State of California is responsible for those inmates who died while in custody. They are also responsible to their families.
Our jail death and injury lawyers are currently investigating claims by inmates who contracted coronavirus while in jail and subsequently died or suffered permanent injuries.
For more information, please visit our jail medical neglect information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online or by email at [hidden email].
Although we try and answer every call, we are often overwhelmed and simply can’t keep up. For that reason, we prefer emails or online contact forms. Please note that we limit our practice to wrongful death, very serious injury cases, inmate miscarriages and sexual assaults by prison staff. We are not a civil rights firm and cannot assist you get treatment or force prison administrators to better protect inmates. For that, see a civil rights lawyer or contact the ACLU.
*About Attorney Brian Mahany. Brian is former corrections officer. He uses his training and experience to cut through bureaucratic bs and government coverups.