Family members of prisoners who became sick or died at the Santa Rita jail in Alameda County, California have alleged inadequate health care following two deaths within a one-week period in 2006. There have been two other medically-related deaths at the facility this year, most recently in August 2007. Santa Rita has logged at least 21 prisoner deaths since 2003, not including nine suicides.
Jail officials note that the Santa Rita facility, which is the sixth largest county jail in the nation, is certified by the American Correctional Association. Despite this assurance, prisoners continue to die. The jail's private medical provider, Prison Health Services, has been the subject of numerous previous reports in PLN. [See, e.g.: PLN, Nov. 2006, p.1].
On September 4, 2006, three days after reporting to jail to serve a 26-day misdemeanor battery sentence, 18-year-old Tony Rounds died of a heart attack while doing pushups in the yard. His family alleged that jail staff did not use a defibrillator that was present for just that purpose, but only gave CPR. Strangely, one day after Rounds was taken to the hospital and put on life support, but before his family was notified of his condition, a judge signed a release-from-custody order because of his medical situation. "He got no help at Santa Rita," his distraught father cried. "They just let him sit there in the yard with no medical help. They just let him sit there and die."
Rounds' death was preceded by prisoner Michael DeCoite, 42, who died at the jail just three days earlier due to hepatitis-C and liver disease.
His family claimed that he didn't get timely medical treatment after he complained about stomach pain and began throwing up blood. Another seriously ill prisoner, Anthony Bravo, stated he did not receive needed medication for a month after he arrived. Bravo suffered from high blood pressure, a heart condition, hepatitis-C and cirrhosis. He was only admitted to the infirmary after he complained for the third time to guards that he was vomiting blood. Bravo's wife said the symptoms were traced to a tear in his esophagus, a common condition with late-stage hepatitis-C sufferers.
In all three cases the prisoners' families were notified by other jail prisoners, not by the jail or sheriff, of their loved ones' medical problems. Sheriff's spokesman Jim Knudson said that no emergency notification policy exists for adult prisoners due to right-to-privacy and security concerns, and that all three cases were under investigation.
Unfortunately, the deaths and medical problems at the jail did not stop there: Another death occurred on April 2, 2007. Jeremiah Woodman, 23, was being held at the Santa Rita facility prior to be transferred to another jail when he died. An autopsy revealed he had bacterial meningitis, which may have contributed to his death; an intake medical exam indicated that Woodman had high blood pressure and a sinus infection. No other prisoners have shown symptoms of the disease.
And on August 21, 2007, Santa Rita jail prisoner Abdule Graham collapsed and died following a fight with another prisoner. His death was attributed to heart failure, although an autopsy and toxicology report are still pending. Graham, 31, was found unconscious in a shower area and taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The injuries that he sustained from the fight, which apparently was over commissary items, were minimal and did not contribute to his death. Graham?s uncle, Ron Graham, has demanded an investigation. "He had a wife and three kids. His death has had a major effect on his family and their future."
Meanwhile, in September 2007, Michael Decoite's four children filed a wrongful death suit against the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, Prison Health Services and individual defendants. Decoite's "jail sentence became a death sentence," said attorney James Perley, who represents the Decoite family. A $10 million claim filed against the county in February had been rejected. The lawsuit, which claims that Decoite died due to internal bleeding and other untreated medical conditions, seeks damages for wrongful death, negligence, negligent training and hiring of jail employees, and civil rights violations.
The suit also alleges that the Sheriff's medical treatment policy was more concerned with cutting costs by providing in-house care rather than seeking outside hospitalization. "I'm hoping treatment for inmates at Santa Rita and other jails will get better because of these lawsuits," Perley stated.
Sources: www.orovillemr.com, Contra Costa Times, Inside Bay Area
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