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Santa Cruz Sentinel – May 21, 2014: Report blasts Main Jail over inmate deaths by Jason Hoppin
A Santa Cruz County civil grand jury on Wednesday issued a scathing report into a slate of Main Jail inmate deaths during an 11-month period, saying most were preventable.
The civilian-led jury documented lax inmate oversight and violations of jail policies, questioned how inmates had access to illegal drugs and called for better communication between jail staff and medical personnel. The deceased inmates ranged in ages from 27 to 59, and were jailed on charges from driving under the influence to shooting at a police officer.
“Certainly, at points, we were pretty shocked,” foreperson Nell Griscom said of the 19-member jury’s investigation. “But we’re really hoping that with the improvements they’re already making over there, and with our suggestions, we’re hoping they’re going to be able to prevent most, if not all, in the future.”
The report included numerous details previously unreleased to the public, including that 30-year-old Amanda Knox Sloan, who had been the subject of a high-profile manhunt, hung herself in July 2013 from a pipe inside a hole in a jail wall that had been concealed by a poster.
Inside that hole, corrections officer found a meth pipe and a razor. Posters are against jail policy, the report noted, and the death occurred three days after Sloan was notified she was losing custody of her three children.
Another inmate, 27-year-old Christy Sanders, was taken to Dominican Hospital’s emergency room after being arrested for petty theft in August 2012. She had complained of chest pain, and while a radiologist revised the diagnosis on her original X-ray, that information was never conveyed to the jail.
A habitual heroin user, Sanders continued complaining of chest pain and requested multiple times over the next several days to return to the hospital, but was denied. She was found dead of two collapsed lungs, her chest cavity having filled with pus due to pulmonary abscesses.
Local jail deaths are extremely rare. In 2011, for example, the entire state saw just 92, according the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
But the county saw five in 11 months, sparking alarm and even a protest by the anti-prison group Sin Barras. The deaths also came as the county outsourced jail medical treatment to Monterey-based California Forensic Medical Group, though the grand jury said the group was fulfilling its county contract.
HIGH MORTALITY RATE
It was an especially dangerous time to be a local jail inmate. While the normal mortality rate is around 125 per 100,000 inmates, Santa Cruz County’s rate was 10 times that number during that period.
The estates of least three of the inmates have filed legal claims against the county. It is not clear how many have followed through with lawsuits against the county, though Sloan’s mother, Fox Sloan, said she intends to.
“It’s not about money, it’s about reform,” said Sloan, who added that she tried unsuccessfully to alert jail authorities to her daughter’s multiple physical and psychiatric ailments.
Chief Deputy Jeremy Verinsky, who currently oversees the county corrections system, said in an email the department conducted an internal review and implemented changes after the deaths. But he declined further comment until the department had a chance to review and respond to the report.
In another case, 47-year-old Bradley Dreher was arrested in January 2013 for threats after trying to obtain Xanax and Valium from a Doctors on Duty. The report notes he complained about access to his multiple antidepressant medications, and refused one the jail offered, saying it would conflict with one he was taking. He was later found dead with a makeshift noose around his neck: He’d managed to hang himself from a bed frame.
Fifty-nine-year-old Richard Prichard died of a heart attack after being arrested in October 2012 for driving with a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit. Despite obvious intoxication, he was never assessed by a nurse nor placed in a sobriety cell, which would have triggered regular checkups.
In November 2012, Brant Monnett was booked for possession of a controlled substance and resisting arrest. Despite telling staff he was detoxing from methadone and heroin, and exhibiting early signs of overdose, he was never taken to a medical facility nor placed in a special observation unit.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office has since appointed a compliance officer to make sure jail protocols are followed. The grand jury also issued recommendations for improving communication between Dominican Hospital and jail staff, bolstering detox training and inebriate intake protocols, more monitoring, having a crisis team involved in final determinations for monitoring and housing of inmates with mental health conditions, and more.
Griscom said four of the deaths were preventable. She also said access to drugs in jail was among the jury’s many concerns.
“From the coroner’s reports, several of these inmates had illegal drugs in their system which, due to the half life of the drugs, they could only have gotten in jail,” Griscom said.
Griscom also said the department is already doing some things better. She pointed out that corrections officers prevented eight jail suicides in 2013.
“That’s obviously a very good thing,” Griscom said.