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$7 Million Settlement for Mentally Ill Detainee’s Death in California’s Santa Rita Jail

by Matt Clarke


In a settlement agreement effective October 23, 2023, California’sAlameda County agreed to pay $7 million to the estate and progeny of a detainee who died while incarcerated at the county’s jail in Santa Rita. The large settlement amount reflected the egregious neglect that allegedly contributed to the death of Maurice Monk, including a failure to provide the mentally ill detainee with necessary medication and ignoring his obviously deteriorating mental and physical health until he died, while also falsifying wellness checks.

Monk’s corpse was found in his jail cell on November 15, 2021, lying in a puddle of his own urine that had been there for days. The floor of his cell was littered with unopened meal trays and unused cups of medication that guards and medical personnel had left there, allegedly without trying to see if he was in medical distress.

This sad story has even more tragedy at its core because Monk probably should not have been in jail at all. He was arrested the previous month after a verbal altercation with a bus driver who refused to let him board because he was not wearing a face mask, as required by COVID-19 protocols then in place. Later turned away from the courthouse for again not wearing a face mask, he missed a court appointment, leading to a $2,500 appearance bond that he couldn’t begin to afford—which ultimately landed him in jail for his final, fatal stint.

This was not Monk’s first time in the jail, and jail personnel knew that he suffered from schizophrenia, hypertension and diabetes. They even placed him in a section of the jail for prisoners with mental health issues that was supposed to have mandatory wellness checks every 30 minutes. Nonetheless, according to court documents, he did not receive the medication required to treat his mental illness during his final stay at the jail.

His family tried to get jail staff to accept Monk’s medications from them or provide him medications from the jail’s stock, but they were met with indifference. Neither jail personnel nor the medical staffers employed by its contracted health care services provider, Wellpath, made sure that he got the needed medications. Without those, Monk’s mental health deteriorated until he was left sitting on his bunk muttering to himself, punctuated by periods of screaming. Maybe that’s why, when deputies and nurses saw him lying on his bunk unmoving and without pants, they were not concerned enough to check on him.

“He lay in this [unnatural] position for several days as various deputies, standing at his cell door, dismissed his behaviors as ‘Monk being Monk,’ claimed the [urine] was spilled milk, or that they saw him move a single toe,” noted the estate’s attorneys, Patrick Bulena, Andanté D. Pointer and Ty Clarke of Pointer and Bulena in Oakland. Much of Monk’s limited interaction with jail staff was captured by guards’ body-worn cameras. Those recordings and the diligence of the family’s attorneys led to the discovery of the abusive neglect—despite an autopsy that found the death was due to natural causes. See: Est. of Monk v. Cty. of Alameda, USDC (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:22-cv-04037.

Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price noted that Monk may have died up to 72 hours before his corpse was discovered. “Mr. Monk, I am told, had a mental illness—a diagnosis,” said Price. “We all know that mental illness is not a crime, and it should not be a death sentence in Alameda County.”

Yet Monk’s mental illness seems to have been treated as a crime. Why else was he incarcerated and neglected over a month for a trivial nonviolent misdemeanor likely related to his mental illness? Wellpath remains a defendant in the lawsuit, though it got some claims dismissed on January 30, 2024. See: Est. of Monk v. Wellpath Cmty. Care, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18164 (N.D. Cal.). PLN will update case developments as they are available.

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Related legal case

Est. of Monk v. Wellpath Cmty. Care