Oakland Man died at Santa Rita jail after being denied medications

The family of a man who died last year at the Santa Rita jail filed a lawsuit against Alameda County Monday, blaming his death on jail staff who they said failed to give him prescriptions he needed for a diagnosed mental illness.

The relatives of Maurice Monk, 45, said they warned Alameda County sheriff’s deputies that their brother needed several medications while in jail and that he had been under a doctor’s care, according to the federal civil rights’ lawsuit filed. Yet they said their pleas for help went unanswered, resulting in Monk’s death on Nov. 15, 2021, just 35 days after being booked into the jail, the lawsuit said.

Deputies and clinicians acted with “callous disregard” for Maurice Monk, 45, an Oakland man who died in November 2021 at the jail in Dublin, said Adanté Pointer, an attorney for the man’s family. His family announced a lawsuit on Monday against the county — blaming the jail’s staff for failing to ensure he received medication for high blood pressure, diabetes and schizophrenia.

“This is a case, this a matter, this is a death that should not have happened,” said Adanté Pointer, an attorney for the family, adding that “they sent his family on a wild goose chase to try to provide the medical information Mr. Monk so desperately needed to receive.”

“This is a case, this a matter, this is a death that should not have happened,” said Adanté Pointer, an attorney for the family. “What we have here are jail staff turning a deaf ear to the pleas of Mr. Monk’s family to get him the prescribed medication that he needed in order to make sure that his health was maintained and that he came out of Santa Rita alive.”

Monk was jailed on Oct. 11, 2021, on a warrant for missing a court date after being detained after getting into a verbal disagreement on a bus about not wearing a mask, according to the lawsuit.

He died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease, and the manner of his death was natural, said Lt. Ray Kelly, a sheriff’s spokesman. However, a request to the coroner’s bureau of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office for Monk’s autopsy report was not answered Monday.

Monk ranks among at least 58 people who have died at the Santa Rita jail since 2014 — a tally that has prompted waves of lawsuits in recent years amid allegations that the jail provides inadequate care for its inmates, especially those suffering from mental illness and suicidal thoughts. One such suit led to a sweeping settlement earlier this year to improve mental health care at the jail and address complaints of “excessive use of isolation, providing an insufficient amount of out-of-cell time and programming, inadequate classification systems, and a lack of due process protections,” among other concerns.

Monk was found unresponsive in his cell on November 15, 2021, slightly over a month after having been booked into the jail on a warrant for missing a court date, the lawsuit said. He had originally been detained after getting into a verbal disagreement on a bus about not wearing a mask, according to the lawsuit.

In the days and weeks that followed, Monk’s sister, Elvira Monk, said she called the jail’s staff 10 to 15 times and begged them to ensure that her brother received his medications. Of particular concern was a monthly injection of Halidol, which he needed on Nov. 9, the lawsuit said. The drug is often used to treat schizophrenia.

At every turn, Elvira Monk said she endured a bureaucratic maze — one that continued until Nov. 16, when she was told to fax her brother’s medical information to the jail’s staff. Hours later, she received a knock at the door from a sheriff’s official notifying her that Maurice Monk had died the day before.

“It was heartbreaking, because both of us did our best,” said Elvira Monk, 44.

Monk had two children — a daughter, 19, and a son, 15 — and he spent much of his adult life working as a security guard and volunteering as a football coach.

“It could have been avoided,” added Tiffany Monk, 34, of her brother’s death. “I just want my brother back. I try not to think about it, because it just hurts.”

Pointer said the sheriff’s office has withheld Monk’s autopsy report and several other medical records. He said the lawsuit was based on ambulance and paramedic records, which offer a limited view of Monk’s medical history while at the jail.

Lt. Ray Kelly, a sheriff’s spokesman, directed questions about Monk’s care to the jail’s behavioral health provider, WellPath, adding “that’s not a decision that’s made by the sheriff, whether or not you get medication or not.” He has repeatedly said the sheriff’s office is making sweeping changes at the jail to improve conditions and limit deaths, including those from overdose and suicide.

“The sheriff is in charge of running the jail facility, but he’s only one piece of it,” Kelly said. “There’s entities within the jail that make the jail go.”

Messages to WellPath and to the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency — which provide medical and psychiatric care at the jail — were not returned Monday.

Conditions at the jail became a focal point in the recent election for sheriff that saw four-term incumbent Sheriff Greg Ahern ousted by Yesenia Sanchez, the commander of the jail since 2020 and a vocal critic of Ahern’s handling of staffing at the facility. Sanchez has promised sweeping reforms that aim to increase transparency about issues that arise at the jail, while improving mental health care and the treatment of inmates.

On Monday, the attorneys for Monk’s family viewed such promises with skepticism.

“What happened to him was not unique,” said Ty Clarke, another attorney for the family. “This is a failure at the institutional level.”

Check back for updates as this story develops.

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