The last time Cindy Hernandez spoke to her son, he called from the West Valley Detention Center on September 13th. His speech was slurred, he could not walk, and he had to borrow a wheelchair from another inmate just to get to the phone. … There was panic and anxiety in his voice.
“He said:“ Mom! Mama! You have to come and get me now, “said Cindy Hernandez, standing outside Rancho Cucamonga prison with two dozen relatives and friends during a protest on Wednesday, October 13.” He felt like he was dying. “
Two days after the phone call, the deputies found 29-year-old Isaiah Jovan Hernandez – a resident of Barstow, type 1 diabetic since childhood and the father of 10-year-old twin daughters – unconscious in his prison bed. He was taken to hospital and pronounced dead.
Death triggers protest, lawsuit
Hernandez, who also suffered from anxiety and depression, is one of three West Valley inmates who have died since September 7 in custody by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the prison.
One of the others, 56-year-old Russell Samuel Garcia from Fontana, was admitted to an “emergency room” in prison on September 12 and was taken to the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center, where he died on September 23. Another, Brian Albert, 43, of Apple Valley, was found dead in his cell on September 7. He was placed in a cell alone.
“They deliberately hurt people here,” Hernandez’s sister Erica Hernandez said during a protest, clutching a plaque with photographs of her late brother that read “Justice for Isaiah.” “They denied my brother’s human rights. They deprived my brother of the opportunity to see his daughters again, ”she said, suppressing sobs.
For seven months, Hernandez was in custody, his mother, sisters and fiancee begged the prison staff to provide him with insulin and other medicines needed to treat his diabetes. But officers rejected their attempts, repeatedly telling them that Hernandez was in good health and “everything is fine.”
In the last days of his life, Hernandez, during phone calls from prison, told his mother, sister and fiancée Teresa Fuentes that he could not breathe, his chest hurt and he was vomiting. His mother said that he begged her not to call the prison because the MPs in return denied him medication and ridiculed him because he urinated.
Cindy Hernandez said that her son’s deteriorating health caused him to incontinence, and he said that her deputies humiliated him and made rude remarks such as, “Do you need to change again?”
“Isaiah called them and said that he was losing leg function. It got dirty. He said the guards humiliated him because of his disability and his condition, ”said Ed Lyman, a lawyer for the Hernandez family, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Wednesday, leading up to a lawsuit against the county. “This is something that has happened here many times in the past year, over the last decade.”
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Mara Rodriguez said the department would not comment on the pending trial.
Mired in a lawsuit
The Sheriff’s Department has been mired in lawsuits for years over alleged inadequate medical care for inmates and other abuses in San Bernardino County prisons, mostly at the West Valley Detention Center, which have so far resulted in payments from the county for millions of dollars.
In August, Lyman filed a lawsuit on behalf of the father of a pregnant schizophrenic woman who was allegedly left unattended in a padded cell in prison and denied her prescribed mood stabilization drugs.
Chino Hills, 24-year-old Kasandra Pastor, was booked in the West Valley on March 13th. Several hours later, she hit her head so hard against the door of her padded cell that it caused serious head trauma and required hospitalization. Back in prison, she was able to choke herself until she fell into a coma, and was later pronounced brain dead at the Kaiser in Fontana.
At the hospital, she was disconnected from the ventilator, and she was pronounced dead on 22 March. She was in custody for only nine days.
Like Hernandez, Pastor’s case began with a 911 call to the police from a family member who sought help during a domestic riot.
Barstow police responded to a call about domestic disorder at Hernandez’s residence on March 4 after he got into an altercation with a family member. He was arrested, prosecuted and charged on March 8 on two counts of felony charges, as well as two improvements from previous convictions, court records show.
And, like Pastor, the MPs refused to take medications prescribed by a doctor for Hernandez, which could mean the difference between life and death. Pastor’s father, Sam Togrey, said he tried to provide the arrested deputy with medication to stabilize his daughter’s mood, along with her doctor’s phone number, but was refused. He said the MP told him that his daughter would receive “excellent care.”
Class action lawsuit
In February 2016, the Berkeley Prison Bar Association filed a class action lawsuit against the county and the sheriff’s department, pushing for reform in county prisons, especially in the West Valley, which holds more than 3,000 inmates. It was one of several class actions filed by the nonprofit prisoner rights organization against counties in the state, including Riverside County.
In December 2018, the Sheriff’s Department agreed to settle the lawsuit, agreeing, among other things, to hire 60 mental health professionals and to curb cases of excessive use of force by lawmakers against prisoners. The judge appointed an expert to monitor the prison on a regular basis to ensure that the sheriff’s department was complying with the terms of the settlement.
Since then, according to court records, the sheriff’s department has been tasked with complying with the terms of the settlement.
In a document filed with federal court on December 13, 2020, Dr Roberta Stellman, a court-appointed observer, noted that her first screening after settling in county prisons in April 2019 revealed insufficient staffing for both mental health professionals and security services. to meet the needs of the mentally ill. During a check in prisons six months later, she found no “significant change.”
In August, Prison Law Office executive director Donald Specter said that while the Sheriff’s Department has made some progress over the past year, it still hasn’t met its goal, and providing adequate medical care to inmates has become even more challenging.
Lyman wonders how many more inmates will needlessly die before something is done to reduce the death toll in the war-torn prison.
“With respect to this facility, remedial action has already been taken or should be taken in accordance with a federal lawsuit,” Lyman said. “It’s a top-down system glitch that allows all of this to happen. This is a huge problem.
“We are committed to fairness and upholding the United States Constitution. Here are basic human rights. Isaiah was not even convicted of a crime. He was awaiting trial. He has a 14th Amendment due process right that has been taken away from him. ”