Family of inmate who died at Dublin jail settles for $8.3M

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ByVic Lee KGO logo
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Inmate death at Santa Rita Jail settled for $8.3M
The children of an inmate who died in a Santa Rita Jail in Dublin after guards stunned him with a Taser settled a federal lawsuit for $8.3 million

DUBLIN, Calif. (KGO) -- Alameda County and a correctional health care provider have agreed to the largest wrongful death civil rights settlement in California history. The lawsuit was filed by the family of a man who died at Santa Rita Jail.

"He wasn't a bad person, you know," said an emotional Martin Harrison Jr. "He made one mistake and they took his life, you know."

Martin Harrison Sr.'s adult children say their father's death will not be in vain.

"We were able to make change out of what happened to our father," said Tiffany Harrison through tears. "And through that, we're hoping that other lives will be saved."

The Harrison Family.

After more than four years of legal wrangling, Corizon Health Consultants and Alameda County agreed to settle the lawsuit filed by Harrison's family for $8.3 million.

Corizon provides health care for Santa Rita Jail and hundreds of other prisons around country.

Attorneys for the Harrison family say Corizon was using unqualified, licensed vocational nurses to do the work of registered nurses at Santa Rita Jail and other facilities in the state.

"Which, by state law, they're not qualified to do that kind of work for the inmates," said attorney Michael Haddad. "So the inmates were getting unqualified people screening them and checking out their medical problems."

They included Martin Harrison, who was jailed at Santa Rita five years ago, after being arrested on a bench warrant related to a DUI arrest.

Harrison told the vocational nurse he was an alcoholic and that he suffered from alcohol withdrawal. But he was jailed anyway without proper medical treatment.

Dr. Harold Orr of Corizon says Harrison never told the nurse he was an alcoholic and that the vocational nurse was legally screening inmates during intake under terms of the contract with Alameda County.

"She asked him three different times to determine the nature and extent of his drinking problem," Orr said. "He denied it each time."

Harrison later went into severe alcohol withdrawal, which included hallucinations. Haddad says deputies used excessive force, which resulted in his death.

"And 10 deputies beat, kicked, and tased Martin Harrison," Haddad said. "While they admit he never punched any of them, he never kicked any of them."

The settlement requires Corizon to stop assigning vocational nurses to jails and prisons and that sheriff's deputies assigned to inmates go through health training every two years. It's an agreement that will be monitored through federal oversight.