First claim filed against California for coronavirus inmate deaths

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People hold up a banner while listening to a news conference outside San Quentin State Prison Thursday, July 9, 2020, in San Quentin, Calif. A group of legislators, advocates, academics and public health officials gathered at San Quentin State Prison to discuss a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility that has sickened more than 1,400 inmates with six deaths. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

OAKLAND, Calif (KRON) – The mother and three children of Daniel Ruiz, who is one of at least 27 prisoners and prison staff who have died from COVID-19, have filed the first suit against the State of California and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the family’s attorneys announced Thursday.

The suit stems from a transfer of 121 untested inmates from the California Institute for Men in Chino, California to San Quentin on May 30, 2020. The Chino prisoners, all deemed high-risk for COVID-19, were driven by bus to San Quentin and had not been tested for COVID-19 at least four weeks before the transfer. Up to the time of that transfer, San Quentin had not had a single case of COVID-19. Within three weeks San Quentin had over 500 known cases of the virus.

Since the outbreak many politicians have condemned the handling of the situation including California Governor Gavin Newsom and San Rafael Assemblymember Marc Levine, who’s district San Quentin resides in.

“[The transfer is] is the worst prison health screw up in state history,” Levine said. “The spread of COVID-19 at state prisons was a preventable public health disaster and a failure of CDCR leadership at the highest level.”

Photo of Daniel Ruiz provided by his family’s attorneys

Ruiz was 61 years old, serving the last few months of a non-violent drug-related conviction and had recently been informed that he was going to receive early release when he contracted COVID-19. Ruiz was known to have several high-risk factors for COVID-19, including asthma.

Michael Haddad, one of the family’s attorneys, condemned the CDCR and asked California prisons officials to follow the laws and protect prisoner’s health.

“The folks in our prisons are human beings,” Haddad said. “Many who died at San Quentin had done non-violent crimes and should have been coming back home to their families soon. It is tragic and unacceptable that some prison bureaucrats treated them as less than human.”

Another family attorney Julia Sherwin argues that the incident not only endangered prisoners and staff, but neighbors as well.

“This botched inmate transfer endangered not only prisoners, but staff and the surrounding communities, costing over two dozen prisoners and on San Quentin sergeant their lives,” Sherwin said. “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. Daniel suffered alone, while CDCR kept his mom, kids and siblings in the dark about his condition.”

Per CDCR rules, which are also being challenged in the suit, Ruiz’s family was not notified that he had coronavirus until he had been in the ICU for two weeks, on a ventilator and close to death.

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