California can possibly be liable for the deaths of prisoners that were incarcerated in San Quentin Prison that were caused by a COVID-19 outbreak after the transfers of multiple prisoners that were infected with the virus, a federal appeals court ruled two weeks ago.
No cases were reported by the prison until May 2020, as transfers of 122 medically vulnerable individuals from the California Institution for Men in Chino to San Quentin Prison occurred, resulting into the deaths of 9 prisoners and overall infection of more than 600.
Those who were initially transferred had not tested positive for COVID, but according to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, they discovered that many of them were not tested for over 3 weeks and no medical assessment was conducted for seeing if symptoms were apparent from any of the transferred prisoners. This transfer included crowded busses on a 400-mile trip.
Quarantine was not an option that the prison for their arrival, and they had automatically been housed along with other prisoners in San Quentin, the court said.
Later on, it was accumulating to a beginning total of 25 transferred prisoners who had tested positive for the virus in a span of a few days, unfortunately increasing to over 2,000 cases, making that over 2/3 of the prison's population. In September 2020, 26 prisoners and one prison guard at the facility had passed from COVID-19.
The lawsuits began coming in from those in San Quentin Prison for damages. According to news sources, the court had ruled last month that a suit brought on by Jacqueline Hampton, a widow of Michael Hampton that was incarcerated at San Quentin for a three-strikes sentence with a conviction related to a drug connected burglary back in 1998.
The suit was planned to be dismissed due to a federal law established in 2005, under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act that protects the government from liability for medical harm during public health emergencies. However, the court did not agree this law applied.
Health care protections according to the court within “non-use” was not considered a “countermeasure” that would make that Act apply, said Judge Michelle Friedland in the 3-0 ruling. Evidence was cited by here that the county's recommendation to quarantine the transferred prisoners was denied by prison officials, as well as turning down lab tasting for COVID-19 for these incarcerated individuals.
Friedland has also responded with how, “San Quentin placed sick inmates in solitary confinement, which discouraged inmates from reporting their symptoms.”
It was ruled that the prisoners' and staff members' Eight Amendment right was violated on “cruel and unusual punishment” by “a conscious disregard to the health and safety on San Quentin employees and inmates alike,” Friedland wrote.
This ruling after the court's decision had made the suit allowable to withstand in suing the state and the prison for the family of Sergeant Gilbert Polanco, the prison guard that had passed away from COVID-19. Micheal Haddad was the attorney for suits of the both of the families for Hampton and Polanco. More suits are expected to follow.
No comment was given by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.