OAKLAND (CBS SF) — The family of a San Quentin State Prison inmate who died from COVID-19 filed a suit against the State of California and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) over his death.
The civil rights law firm Haddad & Sherwin filed suit on behalf of the mother and three children of Daniel Ruiz, a 62-year-old inmate who died of coronavirus complications on July 11 of this year. Prison officials approved him for early release in April because his crimes were non-violent — he was incarcerated for a drug-related parole violation — but he died before he could return home.
Ruiz’s family said they didn’t learn of his health issues until weeks after he had been admitted to the hospital and was on a ventilator. They could not be with him in his last days.
“Adding insult to injury, CDCR prohibited the hospital from even letting Daniel’s family know he was there and fighting for his life against this virus, until the very end,” family attorney Julia Sherwin said in a press release about the suit. “Daniel suffered alone, while CDCR kept his Mom, kids, and siblings in the dark about his condition.”
At the center of the suit is an ill-advised transfer of Ruiz and 120 other inmates from a Chino facility to San Quentin on May 30. CDCR officials ignored the recommendations of the Marin County Public Health Officer and other experts and transferred the inmates anyway, who were already determined to be high risk for coronavirus at the California Institute for Men. When they arrived at San Quentin, staffers did not separate the transferred inmates from the general population.
The suit says that San Quentin State Prison had zero COVID-19 cases before the transfer. Three weeks after those inmates arrived at San Quentin, the facility recorded 500 cases; by July 7, that number increased to 1,300 prisoners and 184 staffers. On July 30, CDCR officials reported that over 2,100 inmates were infected, about two-thirds of the prison’s total population.
Ruiz’s attorneys state that he and 26 inmates from the transfer died from COVID-19. Their suit is the first to be brought against the state for the incident.
“The folks in our prisons are human beings. Many who died at San Quentin had done non-violent crimes and should have been coming back home to their families soon,” attorney Michael Haddad said. “It is tragic and unacceptable that some prison bureaucrats treated them as less than human.”
After the transfer and its resulting cases made headlines, Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, spoke out against the transfer, with Levine describing the incident as “worst prison health screw up in state history.”
Prison officials have not commented on the suit as of press time.