First claim filed over COVID-19 death in San Bernardino County jails – Press Enterprise

The first wrongful death claim stemming from COVID-19 in San Bernardino County prisons has been filed against the county and the Sheriff’s Department amid a resurgence of coronavirus-related illnesses among inmates.

The upturn, which is sparking outcry from prison rights activists, reflects a seasonal rise in COVID-19 cases across the Inland Empire and Southern California, flooding hospital emergency rooms and causing traffic jams at coronavirus test sites.

Pr. On December 28, the Sheriff’s Department reported four new coronvirus cases in the past week at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, two at the High Desert Detention Center in Adelanto and one at the Central Detention Center in San Bernardino. No new cases were reported at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore. An inmate was admitted with COVID-19, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Mara Rodriguez.

Since COVID-19 testing began in San Bernardino County jails in 2020, 2.9% of the total detainee population has tested positive for the potentially deadly virus, with 1,671 of approximately 57,500 inmates testing positive and 389 other inmates awaiting test results, Rodriguez said. .


The wrongful death claim, a forerunner of a lawsuit, was filed Nov. 18, alleging that former West Valley prisoner Russell Samuel Garcia, 56, of Fontana died of COVID-19 due to medical malpractice in prison.

“By September 2021, Mr. Garcia was infected with COVID-19 and denied appropriate medical conditions with incarceration and necessary medical treatment in further violation of his rights guaranteed by the United States and California constitutions,” according to the claim.

According to the Sheriff’s Department, Garcia experienced a “medical emergency” on September 12 and was taken to the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center, where his health declined and he died less than two weeks later, on September 23. The Sheriff’s Department, however, has not yet attributed Garcia’s death to COVID-19 because the forensic pathologist’s office is still awaiting a toxicological report.

Ed Lyman, the lawyer representing Garcia’s surviving son and two daughters, said a doctor at the hospital and the investigating sheriff’s detective told Garcia’s children that their father had COVID-19 and at least 17 other inmates at the prison were infected with COVID-19 at . at the time Garcia was hospitalized. He said he plans to file a lawsuit in a few days.

So far, the Sheriff’s Department says the only remand in custody related to COVID-19 in San Bernardino County prisons was Gary Allen Victor, 57, of Apple Valley. Victor was taken from the West Valley to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center on December 2, suffering from several health problems, including COVID-19, and admitted to the intensive care unit, where his health deteriorated. He died on 13 Dec.

Victor had been in custody since June 22 for allegedly being a criminal in possession of a firearm and committing terrorist threats, authorities said.

‘Severe outbreak’

Sophie Hart, a lawyer for the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, a nonprofit for prison advocacy, said her office was informed of a “serious” coronavirus outbreak in early December and that an inmate had died. But in mid-December, the Sheriff’s Department informed his organization that the number of COVID-infected inmates had “dropped significantly,” even though about 20 were still tested positive, she said.

“We remain concerned about future outbreaks, especially in light of this new (omicron) variant. Prisons continue to be a really dangerous place to be during this pandemic,” Hart said.

Rodriguez said the department would not necessarily characterize the scale of COVID-19 cases in its prisons at the time as an “outbreak.” “The number of cases in our prison population reflects the percentage of cases in society.” she said.

In other counties

Elsewhere, there have been 16 COVID-19-related inmate deaths in Los Angeles County jails since the pandemic began. As of Friday, the county housed 12,666 inmates, according to data on the Sheriff’s Department website.

Orange County has experienced only one inmate death related to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. In 2021, 434 inmates tested positive for COVID-19. And per. On January 3, 66 inmates were tested positive for COVID-19, according to figures from the sheriff’s department.

Richard Herman, a lawyer for the Prisoners Rights Union in Sacramento, said it is inevitable to catch coronavirus in the Orange County prison system.

“Let’s face it, everyone in the facility will get sick, including the guards and service staff,” Herman said. “They have too many people … they are not really able to handle the problem.”

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department did not disclose the recent deaths of COVID-19-infected inmates or COVID-19-related inmates in its prisons. Sgt. Albert Martinez, the department’s spokesman, did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting the information.

Nationwide problem

The COVID-19 problem in San Bernardino County jails reflects a nationwide problem in the cancer system due to staff shortages, lack of proper vaccination training, lax vaccination protocols and people not wearing face masks, said Wanda Bertram, a spokeswoman for the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts -based public policy think tank.

She said in an email that her hopes for a successful response to that problem are not great.

“But we know that people in prisons across the country are still dying of COVID. Every time someone dies of COVID behind bars, we should ask about the officials whose election led to death and the laws that were at stake,” he said. Bertram.

Vaccine protocols

While deputies and civilians working in San Bernardino County jails have to contend with quarantine and incarceration protocols involving inmates infected with COVID-19, the same staff members can also pose a potential threat if they are unvaccinated and unconscious. infected with the virus.

“Right now, most employees working in prisons need to be either vaccinated or tested weekly, but testing weekly will not prevent all outbreaks,” Hart said. “The county should do everything it can to prevent future infections and deaths in its prisons – including requiring everyone working in prisons to be fully vaccinated.”

While all deputies working in San Bernardino County prisons have the option of being vaccinated or tested weekly, they are all, under the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, required to wear protective masks at all times, Rodriguez said.

“That said, if an employee feels sick while on duty, every effort is made to get that employee to take a quick COVID test and a PCR test right away,” Rodriguez said in an email. mail. “The employee will go home and if the test is positive, they will stay away from work until they have recovered.”

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