Federal Court Issues Important Ruling That Civil Rights Case Based on San Quentin COVID-19 Death May Go Forward

OAKLAND, Calif., Jan. 25, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A San Francisco federal district issued an order Saturday that the first of several civil rights wrongful death cases stemming from the botched transfer of COVID-19-infected inmates to San Quentin State Prison may go forward.  

The high-level California prison officials sued had asked the court to give them immunity from the lawsuit filed by the wife of former-San Quentin inmate Michael Hampton, who died from COVID-19 that he contracted allegedly from the widely condemned transfer of untested inmates to San Quentin in May 2020. United States Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler noted, “The plaintiff’s claims are predicated on the botched transfer of infected prisoners from CIM and the defendants’ refusal to implement basic safety measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which caused Mr. Hampton’s death. At the time of the transfer, the defendants knew the risks of COVID-19.” (Order, p. 3).  

Denying the prison officials’ request for qualified immunity from the lawsuit, Judge Beeler concluded, “The complaint alleges known risks from a serious communicable disease. Prison officials cannot be deliberately indifferent to inmates’ exposure to serious communicable diseases.” (Order, p. 16). The Court also denied the prison officials’ requests for other immunities for their actions. The Court granted the motion to dismiss the claims against former California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Ralph Diaz and against the State for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) based on a lack of facts at this time but allowed the plaintiff to file an amended complaint with additional facts to support those claims.  

Civil rights law firm Haddad & Sherwin LLP represents the plaintiff in this case, Hampton v. State of California, et al., CAND No. 3:21-cv-03058-LB, as well as plaintiffs in three other pending wrongful death cases, including for the family of San Quentin Prison Sergeant Gilbert Polanco, who also died as a result of the COVID outbreak at that prison. A copy of the district court’s order is available upon request.

Michael Haddad, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, says: “This is an important ruling in these cases flowing from the very preventable deaths at San Quentin. Clearly, these officials were on notice, yet they chose to increase risks to jail inmates and staff, causing this sad debacle. This is a first step to holding these officials accountable.”

Similar motions remain pending in the other related COVID-19-death cases out of San Quentin.

To interview attorney Michael Haddad or Julia Sherwin of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, please call or email them as listed below. The plaintiff in the present case requests that media do not contact her directly.


The CDCR already has faced intense criticism for transferring 122 Chino prisoners from the California Institute for Men (CIM), all deemed high-risk for COVID-19, when many of them had not been tested for the virus for three or four weeks before they were transferred by busload to San Quentin. At the time of that transfer, San Quentin did not have a single case of COVID-19. Once those Chino prisoners arrived, CDCR and San Quentin officials failed to segregate them from the San Quentin population and failed to protect San Quentin prisoners and staff from the virus they recklessly introduced. Those officials also failed to follow recommendations to control the outbreak from the Marin County Public Health Officer and other experts. (https://www.sfchronicle.com/crime/article/San-Quentin-officials-ignored-coronavirus-15476647.php). Within three weeks after that transfer, San Quentin had over 500 known cases of COVID-19, and eventually, most San Quentin prisoners and many staff contracted COVID-19.

The State of California Office of the Inspector General released a scathing report about this “Public Health Disaster at San Quentin.” https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-02-01/california-prisons-ignored-warnings-covid-outbreaks.

Cal-OSHA assessed numerous violations against CDCR for this incident, including many deemed “serious” and “willful-serious.” https://www.sfchronicle.com/health/article/San-Quentin-coronavirus-violations-lead-to-15925915.php.

Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, whose district includes San Quentin, has described this as “worst prison health screw up in state history,” concluding that “the spread of COVID-19 at state prisons was a preventable public health disaster and a failure of CDCR leadership at the highest level.” (https://www.sacbee.com/news/coronavirus/article243935832.html#:~:text=California%20lawmakers%20on%20Wednesday%20called,the%20state's%20most%20explosive%20outbreak.).   This civil rights lawsuit addresses that failure of California and CDCR bureaucratic leadership.

A copy of the Order filed Saturday in United States District Court for the Northern District of California is available upon request.

ABOUT HADDAD & SHERWIN LLP. Founded in 1998 by Michael Haddad and Julia Sherwin, Haddad & Sherwin LLP is an Oakland law firm representing people in serious civil rights, police and jail misconduct, and wrongful death cases. For more information, visit https://haddadandsherwin.com/.


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