OAKLAND, CA (March 16, 2021) — Civil rights law firm Haddad & Sherwin LLP announced today that it has filed a federal court lawsuit against high level administrators of the State of California and the CDCR for the COVID-19 death of a San Quentin inmate stemming from the botched transfer of 122 untested inmates from the California Institute for Men (CIM) to San Quentin on May 30, 2020. The claim is brought by four of the children and the mother of Daniel Ruiz, one of at least 29 inmates and staff who have died from COVID-19 as a result of that debacle. This is believed to be the first such federal lawsuit against CDCR or its administrators for those events.
The lawsuit brings civil rights claims alleging violation of Mr. Ruiz’s constitutional rights and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against several high-ranking California officials and medical directors. A copy of the Complaint filed today in United States District Court for the Northern District of California is available upon request.
People in prison have no power to protect themselves from the Coronavirus. They depend on California prison and medical officials to follow the laws and protect their health. Michael Haddad, one of the family’s attorneys, says: “Everyone now knows how the CDCR and state bureaucrats ignored the rights and safety of San Quentin inmates and staff, causing the worst prison public health debacle in California history. This civil rights lawsuit will bring sunlight, accountability, and justice for those wrongs.”
Julia Sherwin, another family attorney, says, “This botched inmate transfer endangered not only prisoners, but staff and the surrounding communities, costing over two dozen prisoners and one San Quentin sergeant their lives. CDCR was legally required to use “all reasonable means” to contact Daniel’s family as soon as he had any serious illness. While Daniel struggled for his life, CDCR broke the law and kept his family in the dark, not even informing them after he was transferred to the hospital and severely ill with COVID-19. CDCR then prohibited the hospital from following its normal policy to inform patients’ families when the patient is admitted with serious illness. Then San Quentin doctors appointed themselves to be Daniel’s medical surrogates, to make important medical decisions for Daniel that his family had the right to make for him.”
To interview attorney Michael Haddad or Julia Sherwin of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, please call or email them as listed below. Statements by Ruiz family members and photos of the Ruiz family are available at the end of this press release and upon request. The Ruiz family requests that media do not contact them directly.
The CDCR already has faced intense criticism for transferring those Chino prisoners from the California Institute for Men (CIM), all deemed high-risk for COVID-19, when many of them had not been tested for the virus for four weeks before they were transferred by busload to San Quentin. Up to the time of that transfer, San Quentin had not had a single case of COVID-19. Once those Chino prisoners arrived, CDCR and San Quentin officials failed to segregate them from the San Quentin population, and failed to protect San Quentin prisoners and staff from the virus they recklessly introduced. Those officials also failed to follow recommendations to control the outbreak from the Marin County Public Health Officer and other experts. (https://www.sfchronicle.com/crime/article/San-Quentin-officials-ignored-coronavirus-15476647.php). Within three weeks after that transfer, San Quentin had over 500 known cases of COVID-19, and eventually, most San Quentin prisoners and many staff contracted COVID-19.
The State of California Office of the Inspector General recently released a scathing report about this “Public Health Disaster at San Quentin.” https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-02-01/california-prisons-ignored-warnings-covid-outbreaks.
Assembly member Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, whose district includes San Quentin, has described this as “worst prison health screw up in state history,” concluding that “the spread of COVID-19 at state prisons was a preventable public health disaster and a failure of CDCR leadership at the highest level.” (https://www.sacbee.com/news/coronavirus/article243935832.html#:~:text=California%20lawmakers%20on%20Wednesday%20called,the%20state’s%20most%20explosive%20outbreak.). This civil rights lawsuit addresses that failure of California and CDCR bureaucratic leadership.
Daniel Ruiz was 61 years old, serving the last few months on a non-violent drug-related conviction, and had been informed he was going to receive early release. He was known to have several high-risk factors for COVID-19, including asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Like many others, he contracted COVID-19 while in the custody and care of the CDCR.
Due to CDCR rules also being challenged in the lawsuit, his family was not notified that he had COVID until he had been in the hospital ICU for two weeks, was on a ventilator, and close to death. (See https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-02-28/families-of-prisoners-hospitalized-with-covid-19-kept-in-the-dark). His children and mother mourn his unnecessary loss and that they were not able to be there for him in his last days.