Family of inmate who died of COVID-19 at San Quentin prison sues Calif.

The family of inmate Daniel Ruiz claims the transfer of infected inmates into the prison led to his death

By Sam Stanton
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The family of an inmate who died from COVID-19 after being housed at San Quentin State Prison during an outbreak there last year sued California corrections officials Tuesday claiming the botched transfer of infected inmates into the prison led to his death.

Daniel Ruiz, 61, was convicted in Sacramento on a nonviolent drug offense and for being a felon in possession of a firearm and sent to San Quentin Jan. 20, 2020, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Sacramento.

Ruiz was a "model inmate" who was expected to be released to his home in April 2020, but contracted COVID-19 while in prison and spent months in a hospital before his death July 11, according to the wrongful death suit filed by Oakland attorneys Michael Haddad and Julia Sherwin.

Haddad said he expects to file additional lawsuits involving deaths he believes stem from the inmate transfer.

Corrections officials said in an email Tuesday that they had not yet received the lawsuit and "will evaluate it once we receive it."

But the lawsuit blames the inmate's death on the May 30 transfer of 122 inmates from California Institution for Men to San Quentin, a move that has spawned blistering criticism from state lawmakers and others.

"At that time, San Quentin still had no cases of COVID-19," the lawsuit says. "By contrast, the Chino facility was struggling with a severe outbreak of COVID-19, which by then had reportedly infected over 600 inmates and killed 9 of them.

"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 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."

The lawsuit contends 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."

"Prison staff also were not being regularly tested for COVID-19," the suit says. "Prison staff were not trained about safety protocols for COVID-19, and were not required to follow safety protocols."

Ruiz had underlying health issues that made his susceptible to the danger of exposure to coronavirus, the suit says, including asthma, obesity and hepatitis C.

Despite that, he remained in custody and became ill with COVID-19 in mid-June, the lawsuit says.

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 St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco in late June and placed on a ventilator a week later, Haddad said.

"No one informed Plaintiffs and Daniel Ruiz's family that he was no longer at San Quentin and had been admitted to a hospital, or that he was in the Intensive Care Unit fighting for his life, until July 6, 2020, the day after Mr. Ruiz had coded and had to be resuscitated, but was unlikely to survive," the lawsuit says.

Prison officials did not contact his family until "only after Mr. Ruiz was unlikely to survive," the suit says. That resulted in Ruiz being visited by two of his children"in his hospital room briefly, wearing full protective suits, masks, and gear, without touching Daniel Ruiz and without being fully able to communicate with him, the suit says.

"Daniel Ruiz was still ventilated and could not speak," and other family members were given only a couple of Zoom video sessions with him before he died, the suit says.

"They basically kept the family out of the loop," 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 (if family members had been notified earlier)," Haddad said. "But definitely the family would have had the opportunity to talk to their father before he died.

"It also smells like they might have been covering up facts about what happened, because he also could not tell them what happened inside the prison."

The prison system's COVID-19 tracking webpage lists 29 deaths fro coronavirus at San Quentin, the highest in the state. CIM ranks second, with 27 deaths.

In February, Cal-OSHA levied a $421,880 fine against San Quentin based on a June inspection, the largest single penalty stemming from COVID-19 workplace safety violations.


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