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Lawsuit: San Quentin Inmate Died from Coronavirus After State Transferred Sick, Untested Prisoners

— March 17, 2021

The family of a California inmate who died from novel coronavirus has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections, claiming a combination of poor planning and general negligence led to an uncontrolled outbreak.

The Sacramento Bee reports that the lawsuit was filed by the surviving family of Daniel Ruiz.

Ruiz, 61, had a prior criminal record when he was sentenced for being a felon in possession of a firearm, as well as a nonviolent drug offense.

He was sentenced by a Sacramento court and sent to San Quentin prison on January 20th, 2020.

Ruiz, recalls the lawsuit, was considered a “model prisoner” and was expected to be released as early as April 2020. However, Ruiz contracted and was diagnosed with novel coronavirus before he could be sent home. He spent months struggling for survival in a nearby hospital before dying in July.

While the California Department of Corrections has yet to respond to the Bee’s request for comment, the lawsuit has placed blame for Ruiz’s death firmly upon the agency.

The lawsuit alleges that California negligently transferred over 100 inmates from the California Institution for Men to San Quentin—even though the Institution was in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak, while San Quentin, at the time, had yet to list a single case.

An illustration of the novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for COVID-19. Image by CDC, via
An illustration of the novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for COVID-19. Image by CDC, via

Most of the California Institution for Men prisoners were moved to San Quentin precisely because they were at high risk of contracting serious forms of novel coronavirus—but they were not tested before being sent out.

“Reportedly, 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 lawsuit states. “The transferred inmates also were not properly screened for current symptoms immediately before being placed on a bus.”

“Those 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.”

Shockingly, the lawsuit asserts that, even after Ruiz fell ill, his family was not informed that he had been transferred to a hospital for critical care. Instead, Ruiz’s family was told of the inmate’s deteriorating health only after he had “coded” and was considered unlikely to survive.

“They basically kept the family out of the loop,” attorney Michael Haddad said. “I don’t know if the medical care would have been done any differently in a way that would have saved his life.”

“But definitely,” Haddad added, “the family would have had the opportunity to talk to their father before he died.


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Inmate lawsuits blame California for prison COVID spread

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