Content warning: graphic violence
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, or ACSO, is facing several lawsuits from past and current inmates alleging excessive force and mistreatment of female inmates.
According to ACSO public information officer J.D. Nelson, the cases center on inmate treatment at Santa Rita Jail, which houses about 2,200 inmates. About 10 percent of the total population is female.
Mistreatment of female inmates
Candace Steel, who was brought to Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County when she was eight months pregnant, alleges she was forced to give birth alone in an isolation cell in a lawsuit filed in August.
Isolation cells are “short stay” cells, according to Deputy Marcene Liskey. Inmates are usually held there after fights or when deputies are investigating an incident.
According to court documents, Steel alleged she was placed in the isolation cell as punishment for exaggerating stomach pain. She further claimed she spent several hours in the isolation cell, screaming and alone, before giving birth to a baby girl.
ACSO is also facing a class action lawsuit filed by more than six current and former female inmates at Santa Rita Jail. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that ACSO deputies denied female hygiene supplies and did not give proper medical attention to pregnant inmates.
Attorney Yolanda Huang, who is representing both Steel and the women in the class action suit, said Steel’s treatment in particular was “abhorrent to a civilized society.”
“(Childbirth) is one of the time where women need as much support as they can get,” Huang said. “(The deputies didn’t) provide any medical care. They isolated her. They communicated very clearly that they were going to ignore her, and they did.”
For both cases, the California Forensic Medical Group, or CFMG, is also listed as a defendant. CFMG is a for-profit company that provides medical services, including prenatal care, to inmates.
Because of the nature of CFMG’s contract, Steel claims that the group has financial incentive to prevent inmates from receiving inpatient care at third-party hospitals. The class action suit further alleges that CFMG is dismissive of high-risk pregnant inmates, often accusing them of using illicit drugs when they request medical care.
Though she cannot speak about pending litigation, Liskey said pregnant inmates receive special treatment, including an extra mattress, food and vitamins. Liskey added that pregnant inmates have access to “24-hour medical care,” including an OB-GYN bay near the women’s cell block.
“Even if a pregnant female (inmate) stubbed her toe, we would get medical help to her right away,” Liskey said.
Allegations of inmate mistreatment
Former Santa Rita Jail inmate Fernando Miguel Soria alleged he was the victim of emotional abuse and “gassing,” or being sprayed with urine and feces, in a lawsuit filed in October.
Soria claims he was gassed seven to eight times from August to November 2016 by another inmate, at the encouragement of Deputies Justin Linn, Sarah Krause, Stephen Sarcos and Erik McDermott, according to the lawsuit. In addition to this claim, Soria also alleged that deputies broke his arm and then denied him medical care to treat the injury.
Soria is only one of several inmates who have accused the ACSO of mistreatment. The deputies named in Soria’s lawsuit are also facing charges related to the abuse of up to eight inmates, according to the East Bay Times.
Besides what he described as the “degree” of the mistreatment, Soria’s lawyer, DeWitt Lacy, said Soria’s case is important because two deputies — Krause and Sarcos — confessed to investigators.
“Nine times out of 10, despite … evidence, law enforcement is going to cover themselves to justify themselves,” Lacy said. “In this case, we actually have officers who confessed. … It’s extremely important that there’s some people who are willing to cross the ‘blue line.’ ”
Although he couldn’t comment on specific cases, Nelson acknowledged that because of the prison’s size, supervisors can only be in certain places at a time.
“The vast majority (of employees) do what they’re supposed to do, but we’ve had several cases recently where things that shouldn’t have taken place happened,” Nelson said. “In each allegation of misconduct, however, the offending deputies were either turned in by another deputy or a supervisor … in that regard, the system works.”