Wednesday Morning News Roundup
Sheriff’s Spokesman Says Inmate’s Death Was ‘Unfortunate’
Alameda County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt J.D. Nelson said Tuesday that an inmate’s death at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in 2010 was “very unfortunate and sad” and the department has already taken steps to try to ensure that a similar death won’t occur again.
Attorneys announced an $8.3 million settlement Tuesday in a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of Martin Harrison who died in the custody of the Alameda County jail system in 2010.
Haddad & Sherwin, an Oakland-based civil rights law firm representing Harrison’s family, argued that Harrison died after being shot with a Taser stun gun and beaten by sheriff’s deputies at the jail while going through delirium tremens, a medical condition associated with alcohol withdrawals.
The suit named Alameda County and Corizon Health Inc., a health care provider specializing in jails and prisons, as defendants. They will pay $8.3 million in restitution to Harrison’s four adult children.
The family’s attorneys called it the largest single wrongful death civil rights settlement in California history.
Nelson said Alameda County has contracted with Corizon Health, based in Brentwood, Tennessee, for 25 years to run the health system at its jails and Harrison’s death was the first time an inmate with alcohol problems died.
The attorneys alleged that during Harrison’s intake medical assessment in August 2010, he told an unsupervised licensed vocational nurse employed by Corizon Health that he had a history of alcoholism and alcohol withdrawals.
She chose not to put Harrison on alcohol withdrawal protocols, sending him into the general population without medical supervision. Three days later, he went into severe alcohol withdrawal, began hallucinating and had the altercation with the deputies, according to the attorneys.
Under California law, the vocational nurse was not qualified to do intake medical assessments without the supervision of a registered nurse. Corizon pays vocational nurses 35 percent less than registered nurses and allowed the vocational nurses to perform tasks they were not legally qualified to handle as part of a bid to cut costs, the attorneys said.
Dr. Harold Orr, the regional medical director for Corizon, said the private company has handled 750,000 inmates in the 17 years he’s been with the firm and Harrison’s death was the only time an inmate died from alcohol withdrawal.
Nelson said that among the changes the sheriff has made is to have more training for deputies in the way that treat people with alcohol problems.
Orr said Corizon has instituted retraining of its nurses for handling inmates with withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and drugs and is working with the sheriff’s department to provide more training for deputies.
Police Arrest Suspect In Series Of Business Burglaries
A man pulled over in Menlo Park on Tuesday was identified by police as a suspect in as many as five burglaries of businesses dating back to November, police said.
The suspect was identified by police as Alfred Lee Banks, 61, of East Palo Alto, who was arrested him during the traffic stop, police said.
Police allege he was involved in at least five different burglaries since November including at Café Zoe at 1929 Menalto Ave., Jan’s Deli at 1004 Alma St., Menlo BBQ at 555 Willow Road, Galata Bistro Mediterranean Grill at 827 Santa Cruz Ave. and Mardini’s Deli Café at 408 Willow Road.
Each of those businesses were burglarized by someone forcing the door or smashing a window, who would then clean out what was left in the cash register, according to police.
Investigators identified Banks as a suspect through video surveillance.
In addition to the suspicion of burglary, Banks was arrested on outstanding warrants and violating probation, police said.
Tofu Company Agrees To Injunction Requiring It To Cease Operations Until It Improves Sanitation
The owners of a San Francisco tofu company agreed in a consent decree filed in federal court Tuesday to cease operations until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determines the company is selling clean and sanitary food.
The consent decree concerning the Fong Kee Tofu Co. Inc. was filed in the court of U.S. Magistrate Kandis Westmore in Oakland.
The settlement stems from a civil lawsuit filed against the company and owners Yan Hui Fong, Jen Ying Fong and Suny Fong on Jan. 23 by the U.S. Justice Department at the request of the FDA.
The lawsuit alleged that unsanitary conditions at the company were causing its products to become adulterated.
It alleged that FDA inspectors last year observed pigeons on top of plastic-wrapped raw soybean pallets, insects flying around the area used to process firm tofu, lack of proper handwashing by employees, and residue on equipment that was supposed to have been cleaned.
Kasie Lee, a lawyer for the company and its owners, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The company’s products include firm tofu, soft tofu, fried tofu balls, soybean cake and soy drinks made from soybeans from Missouri, according to the lawsuit.
The company and owners agreed in the consent decree to be bound by a permanent injunction that requires them to stop preparing, manufacturing, packaging and selling the products.
If they wish to resume operations, they must hire an outside sanitation expert, labeling expert and auditor to develop and monitor a program for preparing uncontaminated and correctly labeled food. The experts can be three separate people or the same person.
The company cannot resume its business until it receives written authorization from the FDA. It would then be subject to FDA inspections without prior notice, under the injunction.
Former Jail Escapee Pleads Guilty To Multiple Charges, Faces 12-Year Prison Sentence
A 34-year-old Seaside man pleaded guilty Tuesday to multiple charges including escaping from the Monterey County Jail last Christmas Day until his capture inside a Home Depot store on Jan. 11, a prosecutor said.
Freddy Swanson entered guilty pleas in Superior Court in Salinas to the escape charge as well as possession of cocaine for sale with a gun, possession of methamphetamine for sale with a gun and auto theft, Deputy District Attorney Douglas Matheson said.
A sentencing hearing has been set for March 3, when Judge Carrie Panetta is expected to impose a sentence of 12 years and eight months in state prison on Swanson, Matheson said.
On Dec. 25, Swanson was in the county jail waiting for court hearings on the drug, gun and theft charges when he escaped from custody with the help of a fellow inmate.
The inmate, 30-year-old Clifford Kemper, explained to Swanson how to get out of the jail and arranged a time and place for an unwitting female friend to pick Swanson up in her car after the escape, Matheson said.
When the driver arrived, Swanson was not dressed in jail clothes and she did not know that he had escaped from the jail, he said.
She dropped Swanson off somewhere in Seaside, but it is not clear where he stayed, he said.
On Jan. 11, 17 days later, he was spotted at the Home Depot store in Seaside and arrested by members of the county’s Gang Task Force.
Kemper was later charged and pled guilty to assisting in the escape and will be sentenced to two years in prison, also on March 3, according to Matheson.
The driver of the car was not charged, he said.
Matheson declined to describe how Swanson was able to make his escape but said that jail authorities have since made the necessary corrections so the method would not work in the future.
Supes Ok Plan To Seek State Funds To Build New Jail Tower, Add Beds For Mentally Ill Inmates
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a plan to ask the state to pay for a new tower and repair work at the county’s Main Jail to keep up with a spike in state prison inmates and those in need of mental health treatment.
The county jail system has seen a larger population over the last three years since the state passed Assembly Bill 109, transferring prison inmates to county jails to reduce overcrowding, according to county officials.
As a result there are not enough beds for high-security inmates to provide a safe environment inside, county officials said.
The Main Jail South building on West Hedding Street in San Jose, built in the 1950s, should be replaced with a 480-cell tower to handle the influx of inmates and the Main Jail North modified to make room for those with acute mental health needs, county Chief Operating Officer Gary Graves said.
There are 25 to 30 percent of jail inmates who have mental health difficulties requiring daily medication, Graves said.
A consultant projected the price tag for the project at about $60 million to $70 million, but county officials are concerned that the cost “will be considerably greater” and the maximum grant available from the state is $80 million, Graves said.
The five-member board voted unanimously to spend $950,000 toward designing the proposed new Main Jail South tower and remodeling of the Main Jail North and to begin the process of applying for construction funds with the state.
Brad Sassatelli, vice president of MGT of America hired as a consultant by the county, told the board Tuesday that the jail’s population rose by about 700 inmates since 2011 due to AB 109 and raised the total number of inmates in the county’s incarceration system to 4,157 as of last May.
However, the county jail’s inmate count fell to 3,622 as of Jan. 14 since voters in November passed Proposition 47, the ballot measure that turned seven non-violent felony crimes into misdemeanors, thus reducing the sentences and freeing thousands of prison inmates, Sassatelli said.
The decline may also have resulted from other factors, as inmates in jails typically decline in December and January each year and many of the first prison inmates transferred under AB 109 are reaching the end of their sentences, he said.
Community Gathers To Hold Die-In, Demand Protections Following Murder Of Transgender Woman
Following the fatal stabbing of a 36-year-old transgender woman in San Francisco’s Bayview District last week, dozens of transgender and transsexual individuals gathered outside San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday to demand increased protection and resources for the city’s transgender community.
A large crowd consisting of dozens of transgender people and their supporters, many dressed in red and carrying banners, peacefully assembled outside City Hall Tuesday afternoon to hold a die-in to symbolize the violence that transgender people are facing in their community.
The rally to raise awareness about transgender violence in the city and push for preventative measures was sparked by the Feb. 1 murder of San Francisco resident Taja De Jesus.
Furthermore, a report released Tuesday by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission conducted in collaboration with community organizations, highlighted violence prevention needs for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) individuals in the city.
Since De Jesus’ death, community organizations have formed an alliance under the name Trans Activists for Justice and Accountability (TAJA) Coalition, consisting of the Transgender Law Center, SF LGBT Community Center, Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at the University of California at San Francisco and Trans Life at the SF AIDS Foundation, among others.
In a statement released by the TAJA Coalition this week, members said they “recognize this epidemic of violence as being deeply rooted in systemic racism, trans misogyny, class inequity, and lack of access to affordable housing for trans communities.”
The coalition described this violence as a national crisis. According to San Francisco police spokeswoman Officer Grace Gatpandan, De Jesus was located on the steps of a building in the 1400 block of McKinnon Avenue near Lane Street in the Bayview District on Feb. 1.
She was found suffering from multiple stab wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics, according to police.
After interviewing witnesses, officers determined that the suspect fled the scene on foot before police arrived at the scene.
While police did not provide further information regarding the suspect’s identity or the suspect’s motive for the homicide, the TAJA Coalition reported that the man who killed De Jesus took his own life shortly after taking hers.
The TAJA Coalition listed their demands prior to Tuesday’s die-in, stating a demand for cisgender people, or people who are not transgender, to end violence against trans communities and halt transphobia, particularly against transgender women of color.
The coalition also called for safety and access to resources. In response to plans for a new jail for trans persons in San Francisco, they demanded that new jail construction cease with funds being routed instead to trans community programming, such as re-entry support and anti-violence work.
Officer Says Man Accused Of Murdering Wife Said She Slipped On Stairs
A locksmith who’s charged with murder for his wife’s death at the couple’s home in Oakland’s Montclair district last July told police she died by slipping on the stairs and he was in another room when it happened, a police officer testified Tuesday.
Oakland police Officer Leo Sanchez said Joseph Bontempo, 54, told police in an interview shortly after the death of his wife, 57-year-old Laurie Wolfe, at their home in the 6700 block of Saroni Drive on July 6 that he had warned her not to go down the stairs in her socks because he had oiled the stairs earlier in the day.
Taking the witness stand in Bontempo’s preliminary hearing in
Alameda County Superior Court, Sanchez said Bontempo told officers, “I don’t know what she was thinking.”
However, Sanchez said before he interviewed Bontempo he examined the stairs and noticed a layer of dust on them, which he didn’t think they looked freshly oiled and slippery.
Sanchez said Bontempo made a medical call to a 911 dispatcher at about 6:30 p.m. on July 6, saying, “Oh f—, my wife fell down the stairs.”
Sanchez said Bontempo told police that Wolfe had been dead for a few hours before he discovered her lying on the bottom step on the stairs.
Bontempo said he had been upstairs in the master bedroom watching science fiction movies, smoking marijuana and drinking wine and then went downstairs to refill his wine cooler, according to Sanchez.
Bontempo told police he called Wolfe’s name and when she didn’t respond he looked for her and found her on the stairs, Sanchez said.
Bontempo said he didn’t want anyone to see all the blood on Wolfe’s hands and face so he grabbed a wet paper towel, wiped her hands and face and fixed her hair, Sanchez testified.
Bontempo told officers that he went back upstairs and either poured himself another drink or finished the drink he already had before he finally called 911, according to Sanchez.
Wolfe was pronounced dead at the scene after paramedics and police responded to Bontempo’s call.
Bontempo was arrested on Aug. 12 and charged with murder after a pathologist said an autopsy showed that Wolfe died from blunt force trauma that wasn’t consistent with a fall.
Bontempo, who has been in custody without bail ever since then, sought bail at a hearing on Sept. 25 but a judge denied his motion, saying there are questions about his truthfulness and trustworthiness.
Bontempo’s preliminary hearing is expected to conclude on today. At the end of the hearing Alameda County Superior Court Judge Gloria Rhynes will determine if prosecutors have produced sufficient evidence to have him ordered to stand trial on the murder charge.
17-Year-Old Charged With Rape Of Pizza Delivery Driver
A 17-year-old suspect who allegedly raped and kidnapped a Domino’s Pizza delivery driver in Antioch on Sunday has been charged as an adult, according to the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.
Darrion Miles was charged by the district attorney’s office and is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment today, district attorney’s officials said.
Miles is accused of forcing the driver back into her car at gunpoint in the 2800 block of Bluebell Circle at 11:20 a.m.
Police said he and the woman then drove to an undisclosed location where he raped her. He then let her go and she told police about the attack.
Miles was arrested later that day.
Domino’s spokesman Tim McIntyre said in a statement Monday that the company is working with the local franchise owner to provide the victim with anything she needs.
“It is unthinkable that something like this could happen to an innocent woman, simply trying to earn a living,” McIntyre said. “We are grateful for the Antioch Police Department’s swift action and we hope the person who committed this heinous crime is prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
2 Arrested For Allegedly Assaulting Newspaper Delivery Driver
Santa Rosa police arrested two men early Tuesday morning on suspicion of assaulting a newspaper delivery driver who they believed was responsible for recent thefts in their neighborhood, a police sergeant said.
Police responded at 6:20 a.m. to a report of a hit-and-run crash involving a gray Honda minivan and parked cars in the area of Baggett and Senna drives in west Santa Rosa.
Witnesses told police two area residents had been watching the neighborhood for a van they believed might be involved in the recent thefts, Sgt. Brad Conners said.
When the men saw the gray Honda minivan enter the neighborhood they confronted the driver and hit the van with sticks or pipes, Conners said.
The van driver, who was delivering newspapers, became frightened and tried to drive away but the two men pursued him in another vehicle, Conners said.
When the minivan crashed into a parked car on a nearby street, the two men confronted the driver again and beat the van with sticks or pipes, Conners said.
The van driver escaped and found a place to safely wait for police, Conners said.
There’s no indication the van driver is responsible for thefts in the neighborhood, Conners said.
Police arrested the assault suspects, 38-year-old Rodeo Van Bladel and 28-year-old Matthew Mills, both of Santa Rosa, on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit a felony, Conners said.
San Mateo Co. Supes Approve $5m Jail Upgrades
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning approved more than $5 million for upgrades to the Maguire Correctional Facility in a 4-1 vote, county officials said.
The $5,323,738 contract with CML RW Security approved by the supervisors will include a video-based visitation system, renovated security electronics, upgrades to the administrative segregation pods, upgrades and replacement of security doors and a new pneumatic system to open and close those doors, according to county staff.
Sheriff Greg Munks told supervisors that while the jail’s electronics systems were modern when they were installed, they’ve become outdated and now pose a safety hazard to inmates and staff, county officials said.
County officials said they hope to create economies of scale for maintenance and training by equipping the Maguire Correctional Facility with the same type of systems that will be available at the Maple Street Correctional Center, which is slated to finish construction later this year.
Supervisor Dave Pine was the lone dissenting vote on the contract, saying he preferred to wait until decisions are made about the future use of the Maguire facility once the new jail opens, county officials said.
Large Vehicle Training Program Launched To Create Safer Streets
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced Tuesday the launch of a large vehicle training program that will educate truck drivers on how to safely traverse the city’s streets as part of its Vision Zero strategy aiming to eliminate all traffic deaths in San Francisco by 2024.
Lee said city agencies and community advocates are coming together to ensure that large vehicles traveling in San Francisco are aware of pedestrians and bicyclists.
Lee said that while the urban driving education program will be required for city workers and contractors who drive trucks, it will also be offered to all truck drivers who enter San Francisco via the California Trucking Association, as well as via privately operated commuter shuttles and companies such as FedEx and UPS.
Lee said with so much construction and economic activity in San Francisco, more trucks are entering and exiting the city, making it increasingly important that the city remains safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
John Knox White, a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency transportation planner who focuses on sustainable streets and is helping set the curriculum for the training, said interviews with both truck drivers and bicyclists made it clear that “there’s a lot of confusion” about bike lanes and who has the right of way.
Knox White said the SFMTA expects to release an instructional video by the end of April that will be used in the training program.
The video will use footage of intersections in San Francisco to show drivers how they should travel on the city’s unique streets to ensure bicyclist and pedestrian safety.
Ed Reiskin, director of transportation for the SFMTA, said all workers who operate city vehicles or who are engaged in contracts with the city will be required to go through the training program.
The program will run for at least the next two years in order to get the city on track to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024.
San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents District 6, which includes the South of Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods, said she has attended many funerals in her district and has spoken with many families who have lost loved ones to traffic collisions.
Nicole Schneider, the executive director of Walk SF, a pedestrian advocacy group, said Vision Zero is changing not only the physical landscape of the city, but its culture as well.
Average California Gas Prices Rise 7 Cents In January
The price of gasoline has gone up by 7 cents in the last month to a statewide average of $2.65, the Northern California branch of the American Automobile Association announced Tuesday.
Reduced production associated with refinery maintenance in preparation for high demand in the summer driving season may be a factor in the rising gas prices, as well as ongoing labor negotiations with the United Steelworkers union, according to AAA.
Roughly 5,200 union members have gone on strike at oil refineries responsible for processing more than 10 percent of petroleum products consumed in the United States, according to AAA.
San Francisco and San Rafael currently have some of the highest gas prices in the Bay Area, with an average cost of $2.75 per gallon.
Some of the lowest gas prices in the region were in Santa Cruz at $2.56 per gallon, and Monterey at $2.59 per gallon.
The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is $2.62 in Northern California and $2.67 in the Bay Area.
The highest average price ever recorded in the state was $4.67 in October 2012.
For the second month in a row, the lowest gas in Northern California was available in Marysville at $2.47, and the highest price was registered in Eureka at $2.78.
Weather Forecast For The San Francisco Bay Area
Skies will be sunny today with highs in the mid-60s. Winds will be from the north at 5 to 15 mph.
Skies will be clear tonight with lows in the lower 50s. Winds will be from the north at 10 to 15 mph.
Skies will be sunny Thursday with highs in the mid 60s and north winds of 5 to 10 mph.