Santa Clara Reaches $1.6 Million Settlement on Jail Conditions

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office will make a number of changes to operations at county jails and allow monitoring of jail conditions as part of a $1.6 million legal settlement announced Tuesday.

The agreement was reached with attorneys for Brian Chavez and Brandon Bracamonte, who allege they were kept in solitary confinement for excessive periods of time and denied proper medical care while in jail custody. As part of the agreement, jail officials will improve screening and prevention measures for inmates with medical conditions and work to improve wait times, booking processes, and understanding of inmates’ medical conditions. Berkeley-based Prison Law Office and Cooley, LLP of Palo Alto will receive an annual sum to monitor the jail until all of the improvements are complete.

Both sides spoke amicably of the settlement. Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office praised the sheriff’s office for its “complete transparency” during negotiations. Sheriff Laurie Smith also thanked the lawyers for their professionalism.

The lawsuit that preceded Tuesday’s settlement was filed on Nov. 18, 2015, just three months after the death of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree. Three jail guards were convicted of his beating last year.

Despite the settlement, Sheriff Smith acknowledged last week that there is much more work to be done to improve conditions and oversight at Santa Clara County jails. Just two weeks ago, an inmate was found dead in his cell at the county’s main jail of a suspected suicide.