Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Quadriplegic California Prisoner Baked to Death in Transport Van

A California state prisoner being transferred in 109-degree weather from a Central Valley prison to a remote desert facility baked to death in the back of a transport van after the air conditioning in the passenger section of the vehicle broke down and the transport guards got lost for five hours.

Quadriplegic Jonathan Jerome Smith, 32, and a paraplegic prisoner were being transferred from the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran to Centinela State Prison on August 21, 2006. The two guards driving their van and two more guards in a chase car got lost, turning the six-hour ride into an eleven-hour death ride. When they finally arrived at Centinela, Smith was in a coma with blood pressure down to 60/30. He was taken to a hospital where he died two weeks later on September 5.

State corrections officials are conducting a criminal probe, although unnamed sources said the guards simply got lost and didn?t drive anywhere they shouldn?t have. ?They were calling for directions, they stopped and got water,? said CDCR spokesman Terry Thornton. The guards at one point said they checked on the prisoners, who stated they were OK. The guards involved were reassigned to other duties pending the outcome of the investigation.

Prison Law Office attorney and prisoner advocate Steve Fama asked, ?Why wasn?t a nurse along? Maybe there should be some rules requiring that.?

Federally-appointed healthcare Receiver Robert Sillen classified the incident as yet another case of incompetence in medical care, and immediately stripped the doctor who ordered Smith?s transfer of authority to make similar decisions. That doctor joins 40 others in the California prison system who have similarly been placed on leave pending investigations into improper conduct.

Still, Sillen put the ultimate blame on state leaders whose policies had caused unconstitutional overcrowding in the prison system. ?All of the ills that people see here have been encouraged, aided, abetted and enabled by the body politic,? he declared.

In another recent incident, a Baldwin County, Alabama Sheriff's deputy, David L. Brown, 40, was fired after leaving a prisoner inside a van in hot weather for an hour. He was attending a sexual harassment training class at the jail at the time, but may have had ulterior motives. The handcuffed female prisoner he left locked inside the transport van, with the windows closed, had been charged with reckless endangerment for leaving her child unattended in a car.

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle,

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login