SAN DIEGO — Today, a superior court judge will hear arguments on whether a case challenging the dangerous conditions in San Diego County jails should proceed. The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, Jones v. Ray, are demanding that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSD) take reasonable steps to protect people incarcerated in county jails from severe illness or death due to COVID-19.
On March 15, 2022, SDSD filed a motion for summary judgment to prevent the case from going forward, even though at least seven people in SDSD custody have died of COVID-19 or COVID-19 related causes. There have been more than 4,000 COVID-19 cases in San Diego County jails and many medically vulnerable people have suffered unnecessarily from the virus due to SDSD’s failure to implement reasonable protections.
Plaintiffs in the case, represented by Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance (MOGO), Brody McBride Law, Law Office of Bardis Vakili, and the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC), are opposing SDSD’s motion for a summary judgment.
The plaintiffs argue that SDSD continues to flout public health guidance, taking only half-hearted measures to protect people that are incarcerated from the risk of serious harm caused by the virus.
Declarations from people incarcerated in county jails reveal SDSD has failed to maintain the most basic hygiene protocols that are central to the management of any viral outbreak. The jails are frequently filthy, according to the declarations.
Despite complaints about horrendous conditions such as worms in drains, shower water standing ankle high, black mold, and toilets overflowing with dirty water and feces, SDSD staff sometimes refuse to provide cleaning supplies or clean bathrooms.
The sheriff’s department’s failures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have increased the likelihood of continued outbreaks and put people in their custody at risk of severe illness and even death.
The following quotes are from plaintiff representatives.
Jonathan Markovitz, ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties staff attorney: “The sheriff’s department has a statutory duty and a moral obligation to ensure the safety of people incarcerated in the San Diego County jails. It has a long and troubling history of shirking this duty. SDSD has had three years to implement basic COVID-19 precautions but has failed to do so. It is crucial for the lawsuit to continue because it is clear SDSD will not take necessary protective measures without court intervention.”
Bardis Vakili, Law Office of Bardis Vakili: “While people on the outside are free to make their own decisions about how to protect themselves from COVID-19, people thrown into San Diego jails are entirely at the mercy of the sheriff’s department while enduring inhumane conditions. The department’s head-in-the-sand refusal to implement many of the CDC’s most basic recommendations is shocking to the conscience. This not only impacts the thousands locked up inside, but the tens of thousands of San Diego families and friends who want to see their loved ones return home safely.”
Branden Sigua, Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance (MOGO): “The deplorable conditions in the San Diego jails are being inflicted on people who deserve the opportunity to await trial and serve their time in peace and safety. The extrajudicial punishments being dished out in our County make a mockery of our justice system and a stain on our collective conscience.”
Brody A. McBride, Brody McBride Law: “Even without COVID-19, San Diego’s jails are among the most dangerous in the nation. Based on the county’s and the sheriff’s department’s conduct over the last several years, including their awful response to COVID-19 in the jails, it’s clear they have little concern for the health and safety of the people in the jails. They must do more to protect inmates. If they’re not willing to do so on their own, we hope this litigation will motivate them to make the necessary changes.”
Judge Joel Wohlfeil will hear arguments in the motion for summary judgment today at 9 a.m. in the superior courthouse, 330 W. Broadway, sixth floor, Department 73 in San Diego.
The motion for summary judgment filing is here.
A plaintiff declaration describing conditions is available here.