SF Judge Transfers Lawsuits Alleging Prisoner Sleep Deprivation to Sacramento
(by Julia Cheever) – Two lawsuits that claim certain state prisoners suffered severe sleep deprivation during noisy suicide and welfare checks have been moved from federal court in San Francisco to Sacramento.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of San Francisco ordered the transfer to the Sacramento-based federal court for the Eastern District of California on Friday, a day after holding a hearing on the state’s request for dismissal of the lawsuits and on whether to transfer the cases.
The federal court in Sacramento is the home of the settlement of a 1990 class action lawsuit concerning mental health treatment of prisoners.
That settlement was held in 2013 to require regular suicide and welfare checks of prisoner held in isolation in Security Housing Units, in which inmates generally spend 22 and one-half hours per day in their cells.
The lawsuits by prisoners Christopher Lipsey and Maher Suarez concern welfare and suicide checks carried out every 30 minutes by guards in Security Housing Units, in which inmates generally spend 22 and one-half hours per day in their cells.
Since 2015, according to the lawsuits, guards have completed each check by striking a metal wand against a metal pad outside the door of each cell. Electronics in the wand record the time and location of the check.
The inmates claim the loud clanging causes sleep deprivation and related medical problems amounting to cruel and unusual punishment.
The state attorney general’s office had asked Chhabria to dismiss the lawsuits, saying that the two cases were precluded by the previous class-action settlement.
Chhabria did not rule on the request for dismissal in his brief order transferring the cases. That decision will now be made by the new judge handling the lawsuits in Sacramento. That jurist is expected to be U.S.
District Judge Kimberly Mueller, who is presiding over the settlement of the mental health case.
Although Mueller won’t necessarily be influenced by the proceedings before Chhabria, prisoners’ advocate Verbena Lea said she was heartened that Chhabria expressed concern about the alleged sleep deprivation during the hearing on Thursday.
Lea is a member of the PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation, which is part of the Bay Area-based Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.
“I’m hoping that once (Mueller) has the case in front of her, she will make the right decision and conclude the sleep deprivation is a constitutional violation,” Lea said.