Family of inmate who died at Santa Rita Jail files suit

ALAMEDA COUNTY (KRON) — Alameda County is now facing a federal civil rights lawsuit accused in the wrongful death of a jail inmate.

Mario Martinez was in the Santa Rita Jail last summer when he died on July 15. The family said it should never have happened.

Attorney John Burris filed the suit in San Francisco on behalf of the family of Martinez, who is from Hayward.

At a news conference Tuesday, Martinez’s family says the 29-year-old murder suspect suffered from asthma and nasal polyps. The family’s attorney says Martinez was having difficulty breathing and what guards did to help him was not enough.

In addition to naming the sheriff’s office in the lawsuit, the family has also named Corizon Heath, the jail system’s health care provider.

The family’s attorney says Martinez should have been placed in a medical facility at the jail, but instead was placed in regular housing where it was harder for him to get medical attention.

Burris also said jail and Corizon officials knew that Martinez suffered from nasal polyps that obstructed his nasal passages to such an extent that he couldn’t breathe through his nose.

He said Martinez was supposed to get surgery to solve his problem but the surgery was never performed.

Burris’ associate, Ben Nisenbaum, said that in a cruel irony, Corizon officials sent a notice three weeks after Martinez died that they were ready to perform surgery on him.

“One hand didn’t know what the other hand was doing,” Nisenbaum said.

The family seeks unspecified damages and changes at the jail that will prevent similar incidents.

Martinez had been jailed on charges of attempted murder, drug violations and possession of stolen property.

Martinez is survived by three children from two different mothers.

Alameda County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly declined to comment on the lawsuit, referring questions to County Counsel Donna Ziegler, who said she can’t comment on the suit because she hasn’t seen it yet.

Officials at Corizon, which is based in Brentwood, Tennessee, said in a statement that they don’t comment on litigation but added, “It is important to emphasize that the existence of a lawsuit is not necessarily indicative of quality of care or any wrongdoing.”

Corizon officials said the care it provided to Martinez and the overall quality of care they provide at Santa Rita and the Glenn Dyer Jail in Oakland “has repeatedly been inaccurately portrayed in the media and we look forward to the opportunity to defend our care.”

Corizon officials said, “It is important to keep in mind that the Alameda County coroner did not find Mr. Martinez died from the lack of oxygen delivery. He died because he had mucous plugs in his lungs that blocked the oxygen from getting to the lung tissue, despite the efforts of deputies, Corizon nurses and paramedics to save him.”

Corizon officials said, “Our doctors have offered to meet with Mr. Martinez’s family to explain in detail the medical event that occurred and the effort made to save Mr. Martinez but have been rebuffed in favor of pursuing a lawsuit.”

Martinez’s mother, Tanti Martinez, who joined Burris and other family members at a news conference on the steps of the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, said, “My son’s death was totally preventable and his three children now have to grow up without him.”

Martinez said, “I’m beyond broken and my family is beyond broken.”

Burris said Corizon has been sued several times for allegedly providing inadequate care to inmates, including a suit it settled for $8.3 million last year that was filed by the family of Martin Harrison, a 50-year-old inmate who died at Santa Rita in 2010 after being shot with a Taser stun gun and beaten by deputies while going through delirium tremens, a medical condition associated with alcohol withdrawals.”

“The Alameda County Board of Supervisors shouldn’t stand for this,” Burris said, adding that he thinks the county should consider hiring another health care provider for its jails.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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