Mays v. County of Sacramento
On July 31, 2018, DRC and co-counsel Prison Law Office filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners in Sacramento County’s jails, claiming that conditions at the jail do not meet minimum standards under the U.S. Constitution as well as federal and state disability law.
The lawsuit alleges that the County fails to provide basic mental health and medical care to the jail’s prisoners, imposes harsh and extreme solitary confinement conditions on hundreds of people (including a disproportionately high number with mental illness), and discriminates against people with disabilities. The lack of care and failure to meet minimum legal standards has led to unnecessary and avoidable suffering, injury, and even death for people with disabilities at the jail. The lawsuit seeks significant reforms to improve jail conditions and to end the violation of the rights of people with mental illness and other disabilities.
Case Name: Mays et al. v. County of Sacramento
Co-Counsel: Prison Law Office, Cooley LLP
Significant Court Documents
Proposed Consent Decree for Sacramento County Jail, 6/20/19 (pdf)
Plaintiffs’ Motion Challenging Use of Solitary Confinement, Denial of Mental Health Care - 2/12/19 (pdf)
Order Granting Class Certification, 12/28/18
Disability Rights California Investigation Report (pdf)
Class Action Notice (pdf)
Class Action Notice - Spanish (pdf)
Sacramento County’s Expert Consultant Reports on Jail Conditions
Six individuals with disabilities have bravely shared their experiences in Sacramento County’s jails and agreed to represent the class of prisoners in this case seeking systemwide improvements.
Lorenzo Mays, diagnosed with significant mental illness and an intellectual disability, has been in Sacramento County Jail for eight years awaiting trial, having been repeatedly found incompetent to stand trial. Most of his days in jail are filled with the dangers and monotony of solitary confinement. Permitted just a few hours out of his cell per week, he has experienced auditory hallucinations, deepened depression, severe anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. And he is not receiving meaningful mental health treatment.
Ricky Richardson lives with paraplegia and uses a wheelchair for mobility. When he arrived at Sacramento County Jail, Ricky was not permitted to shower for several days, as he was housed in a unit without a wheelchair-accessible shower. The jail would eventually place Ricky into a medical unit where the showers are larger. However, these showers are still dangerous for wheelchair users. Ricky tumbled out of an unstable shower chair onto the floor when he tried to use these showers for the first time. Without assistance, Ricky had to drag himself across the filthy shower floor. Now, he showers with his entire wheelchair to avoid another dehumanizing fall. Ricky experiences similar obstacles when he receives visits from his attorney, because there is no way to fit a wheelchair into the jail’s attorney-client visiting booth. But according to Ricky, among the most humiliating experiences is the restrictiveness of the medical unit. With no access to recreation or physical activity, Ricky has developed symptoms of diabetes and depression.
Jennifer Bothun arrived at Sacramento County Jail with advanced cataracts, a condition that can cause total blindness if not treated. She has not received adequate medical care for her needs. Jennifer is experiencing complete loss of vision in her right eye, dizziness, and constant pain. Jennifer also has significant mental health needs. She has spent several months in “Total Separation” solitary confinement at the jail while she waits for her trial. Her experience has been one long, grueling nightmare. “I won’t be the same person when I get out,” she said.
Leertese Beirge, diagnosed with serious mental illness, spent seven months in solitary confinement at Sacramento County Jail while he was waiting for a bed in a state hospital. With no human contact and virtually complete isolation, Leertese battled thoughts of self-harm on multiple occasions and eventually attempted suicide. When he has become suicidal, the jail placed Leertese in either a barren “safety cell” or an empty classroom. He has been stripped of his clothes and forced to sleep on the cold floor.
Armani Lee arrived at the Sacramento County Jail with a fractured pelvis and other significant injuries. It was difficult and painful for him to walk. The jail did not provide Armani with suitable accommodations, such as a wheelchair. He was “constantly dizzy,” and fell, tripped, and lost his balance on many occasions. Armani is also diagnosed with serious mental illness, including bipolar disorder with a history of suicide attempts. On one occasion, the jail placed Armani in disciplinary isolation where he was not permitted to leave his cell for weeks—not even to shower. The jail also placed magnetic flaps over his tiny cell window, increasing his isolation and sensory deprivation. Armani began to experience severe anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Cody Garland, a sentenced prisoner at Sacramento County Jail, lives with many medical needs, such as glaucoma and a condition that puts him at risk of severe allergic reactions. He has not received timely care when these allergic reactions have occurred, and has repeatedly had to be transported to the emergency room. During one traumatic incident, Cody endured an allergic reaction for hours without treatment. His throat was closing. His skin was in “excruciating” distress—his skin was so itchy, he scratched until he bled. When Cody was finally sent to the emergency room, he required inpatient treatment in the hospital for more than a month. Cody also lives with mental illness. The jail placed him in restrictive housing for five months where his symptoms worsened. He eventually attempted suicide, recalling that he “just could not take it anymore.”
- Settlement Reached in Sacramento County Regarding Jail Class Action – 6/20/19
- Civil Rights Groups Challenge Unconstitutional Use of Solitary Confinement, Denial of Mental Health Care in Sacramento County Jails - 02/12/19
- Prisoners file federal class action lawsuit against Sacramento County - 7/31/18
- Inmate advocates, Sacramento County settle lawsuit over ‘inhumane’ jail conditions - The Sacramento Bee - 6/21/19
- California’s jails are so bad some inmates beg to go to prison instead - 5/23/19 The Los Angeles Times
- $89M expansion set for Sacramento County jail. Here's why the need is called 'critical' - 4/26/19 The Sacramento Bee
- Who Begs To Go To Prison? California Jail Inmates - 4/23/19 The Marshall Project
- Here is what lawsuit claims is inhumane at Sacramento jail - The Sacramento Bee - 2/14/19
- ‘Punished for trying to kill myself’: Lawyers ask to halt solitary at Sacramento jail - The Sacramento Bee - 2/14/19
- Sacramento County Jail Lawsuit Ruled ‘Class Action’ by Federal Court - The Davis Vanguard 01/04/19
- Federal Judge Soon to Rule on Final Class Action Status of Sacramento County Jails Lawsuit - The Davis Vanguard 12/26/18
- Suicide cells - Sacramento News & Review 10/4/18
- ‘What happened to our brother?’ - Sacramento News & Review 8/30/18
- Sac Jails Slapped with Class Action Suit Charging Prisoners Subjected to ‘Inhumane and Degrading Conditions’ - The Davis Vanguard 8/1/18
- Inmate advocates sue Sacramento County over ‘dangerous, inhumane’ conditions inside jails - The Sacramento Bee 7/31/18