By, Alfred King, Journalism Guild Writer
A group of California inmates who contracted valley fever are appealing their damage lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The suit names 14 former and present state officials who “just didn’t take it seriously,” said Benjamin Pavone, lead attorney for the 117 currently and formerly incarcerated people who contracted the disease.
Most cases are mild but “over a 10-year period, dozens of inmates throughout California died,” Pavone told Valley Public Radio.
The appeal challenges a negative ruling by the 9th District Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court is expected to announce in October if it will hear the case.
The defendants include former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, officials at various prisons and former secretaies of state prisons.
Pavone said if the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, he will consider taking the case to the United Nations.
Federal court receiver J. Clark Kelso ordered Avenal and Pleasant Valley State Prisons to relocate 3,200 inmates known by the state to be at risk of contracting valley fever, especially African-Americans and those over 55 years of age.
Valley fever is primarily a disease of the lungs caused by the coccidioides species of fungus, which grows in soils with low rainfalls, high summer temperatures, and moderate winter temperatures. Currently there is no cure for valley fever.
“Over a 10-year period, dozens of inmates throughout California died”
Avenal and Pleasant Valley prisons had infection rates hundreds of times higher than the state average, Valley Public Radio reported.
Health Care Services issued a fact sheet that stated that some of these people will need anti-fungal medication to help them get better. “On rare occasions, cocci can also spread to other parts of the body and cause a more severe form of illness.”
Attorney Ian Wallach called valley fever a life sentence that no judge had ordered. “ Without the medicine, they will die; with the medicine, the quality of life is still unbearable.”
California has known since 2006 that segments of the inmate population were at greater risk for contracting valley fever, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokesperson for Kelso, reports the Los Angeles Times.
A valley fever expert, Dr. John Galgiani, said California is ignoring a public health emergency. “Prison officials should be, but apparently are not, acting in a manner consistent with a situation where the lives of individuals are at substantial risk,” according to the LA Times.
One victim is Altin Jefferson, 48, serving 25 years to life. He became ill 28 years ago at Wasco. After his condition worsened, he was sent to Vacaville where he was diagnosed as having valley fever.
After various transfers, he arrived at San Quentin in 2013.
Jefferson said he’s getting the best treatment he’s had here at San Quentin. “I continue physical therapy and constant monitoring. The medical care here is just good, but I have to be on medication the rest of my life.”