State’s COVID settlement offer includes pizza party as ‘morale booster’
Prison officials offered a series of concessions including a pizza party to a group of prisoners to settle a lawsuit about the mishandling of the COVID outbreak in San Quentin.
A few of the plaintiffs in the case received a copy of a settlement proposal dated May 11, 2021 — just days before evidentiary testimony began in Marin County Superior Court — from the Public Defender’s Office.
“It’s an insult,” said petitioner Mike Beaudette after reading the settlement offer. “It’s like spitting in an inmate’s face and then slapping them afterwards.”
More than 300 San Quentin residents filed suit against the prison and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. They alleged, “cruel and unusual punishment” and “deliberate indifference” for the COVID-19 conditions that ultimately caused 28 incarcerated deaths and the death of a correctional sergeant.
The original petitioner, Ivan Von Steich, won his habeas case, which included a population limit of 1,775 SQ residents — a decision later vacated on appeal.
The San Quentin community now awaits an upcoming ruling by Judge Geoffrey M. Howard, who presided over 11 days of Marin County evidentiary testimony live-streamed in and from SQ.
As outlined in the settlement proposal, CDCR “would be willing to agree to in exchange for a global resolution of all COVID-related petitions currently pending in the Marin County Superior Court” to the following package:
• Continue plans to distribute free computer tablets to every incarcerated person in CDCR;
• Continue vaccine efforts (offering shots, administering shots, etc.);
• Continue 180-day release program at SQ until a date certain (absent a settlement, program may end sooner);
• Continue 1170(d) resentencing referrals through the sole discretion of the CDCR Secretary; Continue to consider and make medical reprieves through the sole discretion of the governor;
• Continue to post patient and staff COVID-positive information on CDCR public website;
• Continue to provide medical care and pay medical bills of petitioners while they remain in CDCR custody;
• “As a morale booster, CDCR will provide a special meal at SQ (e.g., pizza party).”
• And as a final concession, “CDCR would be willing to include language in the settlement acknowledging the hardships and trauma petitioners have experienced.”
The proposal also clearly stated, “In order to settle this case, every petitioner would have to agree to accept the settlement offered by CDCR.”
San Francisco Public Defender Danielle Harris opted not to discuss any settlement offer.
Petitioner Joshua Grant came to San Quentin as one of the 122 forced transfers from the California Institute for Men (CIM) that sparked the massive outbreak.
“I thought this was just a stupid rumor going around,”
Grant said after reading the settlement proposal. “I didn’t think it had any legs.
“This is worse than toilet paper. I can’t believe they’d think anyone — let alone all of us — would even think about accepting this, especially ’cause there’s nothing on here that we’re not already getting.”
Petitioner John Mattox was also part of that ill-fated transfer group from CIM and is recognized by court documents as SQ’s Patient Zero — the first confirmed positive COVID-19 case within the facility.
“It shows that they’re acknowledging guilt,” said Mattox. “Why offer a settlement if you did nothing wrong?
“Anytime someone offers you crumbs, they’re admitting guilt. CDCR knows they did wrong by us, but they don’t want to do the right thing.
“They never own their wrongs, but they expect us to.”