News Release

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Seeking Release of Medically Vulnerable Individuals from Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, Calif.

Washington, DC (June 1, 2020) -- The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), joined by California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ), the ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC), and three individuals in custody at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, California, represented by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court late Friday.

This class action lawsuit seeks to compel Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern to release all medically vulnerable people in custody at Santa Rita or in rare circumstances transfer them to home confinement. The lawsuit also asks a county judge to order the Alameda County sheriff to immediately identify all medically vulnerable people – and provide his criteria for selecting them. The action also calls for COVID-19 testing for all at-risk inmates and proper quarantine of infected people, among other protective measures. As detailed in the court filings, the conditions at the Santa Rita Jail are unacceptable and present a clear and present danger to individuals held at that facility.

“Sheriff Ahern has the authority and constitutional duty to release medically vulnerable people in his custody in order to save lives,” said NACDL Vice President Martín Sabelli. “With COVID-19 continuing to rampage through jails and prisons, causing serious illness and death, we have no time to waste.”

“Many of the individuals in the Santa Rita Jail and other county jails across California are in serious danger of contracting this disease simply because they cannot afford bail,” said NACDL President Nina J. Ginsberg. “NACDL is concerned about all individuals at risk of contracting COVID-19 because of the conditions at facilities like the Santa Rita Jail. The disparate impact that COVID-19 is having on poor communities and communities of color is undeniable and alarming.”

“The sheriff’s half measures cannot protect medically vulnerable people from contagion. They only underscore his deliberate indifference to their health,” said Kathleen Guneratne, a senior attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “Jail officials must allow for the release of medically vulnerable inmates, not only for their safety, but for that of their staff and the community as a whole."

Petition for Writ of Mandate:

Application for Temporary Restraining Order:

Proposed Temporary Restraining Order:


Ivan Dominguez, NACDL Senior Director of Public Affairs and Communications, (202) 465-7662 or

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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