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Santa Clara Co. Reaches $1.6M Settlement Over Jail Conditions

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office has reached a $1.6 million settlement in a class action lawsuit filed three years ago alleging overuse of solitary confinement and inadequate medical care at county jails, sheriff's officials said.

The settlement was announced Tuesday.

Berkeley-based Prison Law Office and Cooley, LLP of Palo Alto will also receive money each year to monitor the jails until improvements are completed. A federal judge is expected to approve the settlement by the end of this year, according to the Prison Law Office.

The lawsuit was filed on Nov. 18, 2015, on behalf of inmates Brian Chavez and Brandon Bracamonte. It alleged the two men had been kept in solitary confinement for excessive periods of time and denied proper dental, mental and medical care.

On Monday, Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office said the sheriff's office exhibited "complete transparency" during the course of the lawsuit.

"Although the negotiations were long and difficult, the outcome will result in dramatic improvements to the jails that will help reduce recidivism," Specter said in a statement.

The terms of the settlement list several changes to the jail facilities, including reduced wait times for inmates with health concerns, revised screening and prevention for those at risk of suicide and an improved intake and booking process to better understand inmates' medical history and needs.

"We are proud of the work we have accomplished toward this end, but we have much more to achieve toward completing my advanced Jail Reform Plan," Sheriff Laurie Smith said in a statement, thanking the plaintiff's lawyers for their professionalism.

The lawsuit was filed a few months after the death of inmate Michael Tyree in August 2015. Three jail guards were convicted in 2017 of beating the mentally ill man to death.

The county responded with the blue ribbon commission to assess the county's management of the jails and expanded the amount of surveillance cameras inside the facilities.

"For the last three years, the County has tackled necessary jail reforms in a ... transparent fashion resulting in improved conditions for inmates and their families, the staff, and our community," County Counsel James Williams said in a statement. "With this settlement complete, the County can now finalize its work on the County's larger efforts on jail reforms."


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