SAN FRANCISCO (BCN)
A federal judge in San Francisco today set a fast-track schedule with a jury trial as soon as June on a civil rights lawsuit in which pregnant Alameda County jail inmates claim they are mistreated.
U.S. District Judge James Donato said at a hearing that he will handle the case on an expedited basis and hopes to have a trial possibly by early June on the lawsuit filed in January by six current and former pregnant inmates at the county’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.
The trial is expected three or four days.
Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. J.D. Miles spoke to KTVU FOX 2 News at 4P about the move of some Butte County jail inmates to Alameda County as a precautionary measure as the Oroville Dam spillway threatened to fail.
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The plaintiffs claim pregnant prisoners are denied adequate medical care, nutritious food, warm clothing and fresh air. They contend they are kept in unsanitary conditions, there are rats in the jail kitchen and their laundry is sometimes returned dirty.
The defendants in the case are Alameda County, Sheriff Gregory Ahern and other jail officials.
County lawyers told the judge in a filing last week that “Santa Rita Jail is a clean, orderly, and well-managed jail staffed by extraordinarily professional and compassionate deputies.”
“It also meets or exceeds all controlling legal requirements regarding the administration of local detention facilities and is proudly accredited by the American Correctional Association,” lawyers for the county wrote.
Donato originally scheduled today’s court session as a hearing on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction requiring improvements in the conditions before a trial is held.
But he said that the two sides’ descriptions of conditions are so far apart that the facts must be decided by a jury. He deferred ruling on a preliminary injunction and instead announced the fast-track schedule.
The judge said that in the meantime, while awaiting trial, the plaintiffs can file emergency requests for specific changes if needed, but said they must back up any requests with statements from doctors.
Two pregnant inmates, guarded by officers, attended today’s court session, but Donato did not hear any testimony from the inmates or any other witnesses.
Donato also said a seventh plaintiff who is a current pregnant inmate can join the case and he ordered the plaintiffs to file an amended version of their lawsuit by April 5.
Outside of court, Yolanda Huang, a lawyer for the inmates, said Donato’s decision to make the trial a priority shows that he “recognized the seriousness of the issue.”
Huang said she expected that at trial, the jurors will decide whether the inmates’ rights were violated; if they find a violation, the judge would then decide on the remedy, such as a permanent injunction.
Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly referred to his initial comment on the case in January and said sheriff’s officials would have no further comment outside of court now that the litigation is under way.
In January, Kelly said the allegations were “false claims” and were “especially egregious.”