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California Sheriff Hid Number of Deaths in Sacramento County Jails

Jones’ administration no longer issues media releases when a prisoner dies or is seriously injured, according to reporter Raheem Hosseini of the Sacramento News & Review. It said in a September 22, 2020 story that an examination of the archives revealed that most of the deaths in 2019 were not voluntarily divulged by the county jail.

Sacramento has two jail facilities, the downtown main facility and the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove. Both jails were under attack by Disability Rights and the Prison Law Office for poor conditions and inadequate health care. The organizations won their lawsuit for prisoners and detainees, and Sacramento County signed a consent decree to improve conditions in its jails. But activists are concerned that conditions have actually become more dangerous since that 2019 ruling. (See Mays v. Cty. of Sacramento, Case No. 2:18-cv-02081 TLN KJN, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.)

Records show that 38 people had died at the jails since Jones took office in 2010. Yet, unofficially, that number may be much higher. Deaths that might be attributed to the jails but do not occur until after the person leaves are not counted in the total.

Clifton Harris, a 61-year-old prisoner, was severely beaten by his roommate and had to be moved to a hospital where he was placed on life support. Eight months later, his family decided to pull the plug. The death was not recorded in the county jail records because Harris was not listed in its custody. Similar cases stretch back throughout Jones’ tenure.

Jones is not required to provide statements over the deaths that occur in the county jails, although spokeswoman Sgt. Tess Deterding stated that this had been the common practice for the department in the past and that public records requests would provide basic information on in-custody deaths. Jones only need contact the Correctional Health Services and the county coroner in the event of a death.

According to the investigation conducted by Hosseini, Jones has been the defendant in 399 federal lawsuits since taking office. He reportedly had cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in courtroom settlements. He is responsible for ousting an inspector general who took a negative view of a questionable shooting in 2017 that resulted in the victim’s death. And he is accused of using federal pandemic aid to supplement salaries in the Sheriff’s Office.

Disability Rights California attorney Aaron Fischer is concerned about Jones’ actions while in office and to the rights and well-being of his clients. “Transparency about those things is important,” he said. “It’s just a reminder that the consent decree that was reached was a piece of paper that needs to be implemented. The consent decree wasn’t the end. It was the beginning.” 


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