The family of an inmate housed at San Quentin State Prison who died from COVID-19 after an outbreak there last year reportedly sued California corrections officials, claiming the mismanaged transfer of infected inmates into the prison led to his death.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Sacramento stated that 61-year-old Daniel Ruiz was convicted in the same city on a nonviolent drug offense and for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sent to San Quentin in Jan. 2020. Per the wrongful death suit filed by Oakland attorneys, Diaz was a “model inmate” who was expected to be released to his home in Apr. 2020, but contracted COVID-19 while in prison and spent months in a hospital before his death July 11.
Ruiz had underlying health issues that made him susceptible to the danger of exposure to coronavirus, including asthma, obesity, and hepatitis C. Despite this, he remained in custody and became ill with COVID-19 in mid-June. The lawsuit blames Diaz’s death on the May 30 transfer of 122 inmates from California Institution for Men to San Quentin. As the lawsuit reads, there were still no cases of COVID-10 in San Quentin at the time. On the other hand, the Chino facility — where the transfers came from— was struggling with a big outbreak, which by then had reportedly infected over 600 inmates and killed nine of them.
“All of the men who were transferred had high medical risk factors. And, most or all of the men who were transferred had not been tested for COVID-19 for at least approximately three or four weeks. The transferred inmates also were not properly screened for current symptoms immediately before being placed on a bus,” the lawsuit reportedly reads. Also highlighted was the fact that the transferred inmates were packed onto buses in numbers far exceeding COVID-capacity limits that CDCR had mandated for inmate safety, where some fell ill even before they arrived at San Quentin.
The lawsuit contends that corrections officials ignored repeated warnings from public health experts about the dangers and lack of safety precautions at the prison, with guards “relegated to wearing inmate-made masks sewn from inmate pants and other clothes, or masks created at home by their loved ones.”
Moreover, the suit also alleges that prison staff were not being regularly tested for COVID-19, nor trained about safety protocols for COVID-19 or required to follow safety protocols. The exact details of his exposure and illness are not clear because his family was not contacted when he fell ill or even immediately after he was taken to the hospital in San Francisco in June and placed on a ventilator a week later. The family was not informed about any of it — including being placed in the Intensive Care Unit fighting for his life.
Prison officials did not contact his family until “only after Mr. Ruiz was unlikely to survive,” the suit says. “Daniel Ruiz was still ventilated and could not speak,” the suit explains, when two of his children visited him briefly in the hospital. Other family members were given only a couple of Zoom video sessions with him before he died.
“I don’t know if the medical care would have been done any differently in a way that would have saved his life (if family members had been notified earlier),” the family’s attorney said. “But definitely the family would have had the opportunity to talk to their father before he died.”
Diaz’s attorneys said they expect to file additional lawsuits involving deaths they believe stem from the inmate transfer. The prison system’s COVID-19 tracking webpage lists 29 deaths from coronavirus at San Quentin, the highest in the state.