Lawyers for the family of a man who died at Alameda County's Santa Rita Jail in 2021 that settled with the county for $7 million released more information this week about the case, including changes that are now mandated to be made at the jail.
The death of 45-year-old Maurice Monk, who was found dead in his cell at Santa Rita Jail on Nov. 5, 2021, prompted an investigation after it was alleged that he had lain dead in his cell for up to 72 hours before anyone noticed.
"We know multiple jail guards and medical staff from Wellpath -- which has a $250 million contract for medical services at the jail -- saw him lying face-down, unmoving, in a growing puddle of bodily fluids, for days," said Adante Pointer, attorney for the family. "This goes beyond negligence. It was criminal."
Tya Modeste, spokesperson for the county Sheriff's Office, said that the case is actually not over yet.
"While other outlets have reported the settlement, we have not fully completed the case. The Sheriff's Office will comment once the case has been finalized," Modeste wrote in an email.
Earlier this month, Alameda County District Attorney Pam Price said Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez had agreed to provide information to investigators from Price's office regarding Monk's death.
Monk had been arrested about a month earlier on suspicion of disorderly conduct for allegedly refusing to get off an Alameda-Contra Costa Transit bus and failing to appear on a misdemeanor warrant for another alleged altercation on a bus, according to prosecutors. His public defender said that he missed his court date because he was turned away at the door and was unable to pay the $2,500 cash bail once he was arrested.
Pointer's office said that Monk struggled with mental health issues such as schizoaffective disorder.
"Mr. Monk, I am told, had a mental illness -- a diagnosis," Price, the district attorney, said in a statement earlier this month. "He had medical issues. We all know that mental illness is not a crime, and it should not be a death sentence in Alameda County."
The settlement doesn't just come with millions of dollars, it also stipulates that the jail step up its monitoring of inmates' wellbeing during observation checks. Guards must now complete a yearly training on how to assess "emergent issues related to the physical and mental health of incarcerated persons, including deterioration in quality of life."
Sheriff's deputies' bodycam footage was released in October that showed the condition of Monk and his cell, including untouched meals, paper cups of medication tossed into his cell, and showed him lying face down in his bunk "above a growing pool of urine and body fluids," according to Pointer.
Pointer also said that an Alameda County Sheriff's Office investigation showed that guards had forged wellness check timelines for Monk and ignored "obvious" signs of his deterioration.
By mid-March of this year, just months into Sanchez's tenure as sheriff after being elected last year, four inmates had died in Santa Rita Jail within six weeks.
Santa Rita has one of the highest rates of in-custody deaths in the state, according to California Department of Justice data, and in 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice declared the jail to be the largest mental health provider in the county, but said the services were inadequate and violated the civil rights of inmates.
In February 2022, a settlement in a 2018 lawsuit on behalf of several inmates resulted in a consent decree that the jail would improve its mental health services and increase staffing. The DOJ also agreed to monitor the settlement for five years and implement inspections of the jail twice a year.
In the decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins said that the treatment of inmates at the jail was unconstitutional.
"Many spoke about inhumane conditions at the jail," wrote Cousins, "citing minimal out-of-cell time, lack of access to mental health resources, and unresponsive grievance process, and unchecked uses of force."
In May of this year, several inmates went on a hunger strike to protest the alleged lack of mental health care at Santa Rita, along with poor food quality and what one inmate said was retaliation from jail staff.
Monk's family is also pursuing a civil rights lawsuit against Wellpath nurses and other medical staff.
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