The family of a man who was found dead inside his Yuba County Jail cell on Feb. 28 has filed a lawsuit against Yuba County, Sheriff Wendell Anderson, Captain Allan Garza and others at the jail.
Vong Yang, 30, of Yuba City, was arrested on Feb. 26 in the parking lot of the Plumas Stop and Shop on River Oaks Boulevard on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance, the Appeal previously reported.
After being in custody at the Yuba County Jail, Yang was found unresponsive in his cell on the morning of Feb. 28.
According to the coroner’s office, Yang’s primary cause of death was kidney failure. A postmortem blood sample also showed there was 330 nanograms per milliliter of methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death, the Appeal previously reported.
Other significant conditions listed were a history of medical and therapeutic noncompliance, marked cardiomegaly (enlarged heart), hypertensive cardiovascular disease and a history of methamphetamine use.
In the lawsuit brought by Youa Vue, the mother of Yang, the list of damages alleged include unreasonable search and seizure; denial of medical care; deprivation of life without due process; municipal liability for unconstitutional custom, practice, or policy; negligence; wrongful death; negligent supervision, training, hiring, and retention; failure to summon immediate medical care; infliction of cruel and unusual punishment; and discrimination on basis of disability.
Kaveh Navab, one of the lawyers representing Vue, said the family was kept in the dark about what led to Yang’s arrest.
“We don’t know the exact nature of what caused him to be arrested,” said Navab. “What we do know is that at the time, he was under the treatment for dialysis and had an appointment and had an oxygen tank in his trunk and at the time of his arrest this would have been clearly evident. … From our perspective he died shortly after … because treatment wasn’t provided.”
According to the suit, Yang was diagnosed with kidney failure in late 2019 and as a result was receiving dialysis treatment three times a week in Yuba City. The suit also claims that Yang had respiratory health issues and carried a large oxygen tank with him in his car. Vang Yong, Yang’s sister, claims that when she retrieved Yang’s car following his death, the oxygen tank was still in his vehicle.
The suit claims that Yang “sustained injuries including, but not limited to, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and death when he was denied medical care” while in custody. It is alleged that Yang was “arrested before his appointment for dialysis treatment” and “thus was deprived of urgent medical care.”
Yang informed jail staff of his medical conditions and staff “failed to take reasonable action,” the suit alleges.
In May, Vue filed a comprehensive notice of governmental tort claims with Yuba County, according to the suit. The suit says Yuba County rejected these claims on June 17.
The suit further alleges that Yuba County “has been on notice for over thirty years that its inadequate provision of medical and mental health care to inmates at the Yuba County Jail results in needless harm.”
The civil rights lawsuit seeks both compensatory and punitive damages for Yang’s death at the Yuba County Jail. It was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California and Vue is seeking a jury trial.
According to the lawyers representing Yang, in 1979, the United States District Court for Eastern District of California approved and entered a consent decree governing the Yuba County Jail after inmates filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the jail in 1976.
In the decree, the jail was required to set minimal medical and mental health staffing requirements and to minimize the risk of inmates committing suicide or engaging in acts of self-harm.
“A consent decree that was issued was not properly followed,” said Navab. “As a result, Mr. Yang died. It seems to have not been followed. The reason a consent decree was in place was because of decades of problems.”
Among the many claims, Vue’s lawsuit also alleges that Yuba County “failed to impose adequate discipline on its institutions, entities, and subdivisions ... creating a culture of impunity within the SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT and the COUNTY JAIL that encourages such violence and incidents of Constitutional Violations against the public.”
It also alleges that the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department and others involved also “failed to impose adequate discipline on its deputies who committed different types of violations under the United States Constitution and state laws.”
Vue claims, in the suit, that Yuba County “has a longstanding custom or practice of denying or delaying medical and mental health care when an individual is in imminent threat of harm or death.” It also alleges that on “multiple occasions, the County of Yuba has condoned, allowed and/or encouraged the denial of urgent medical and mental health care and the violation of the constitutional rights by its deputies and employees.”
In response to the suit filed by Vue, Yuba County Media and Community Relations Coordinator Russ Brown said, “Yuba County has not yet been served with this lawsuit. We will respond in proper fashion at the appropriate time.”
Anderson said he could not comment on pending litigation and wasn’t previously aware there was pending litigation. “I have not been served,” he said.
Sam Simantob, another lawyer representing Vue, said the family just wants answers.
“We need to find out what happened,” said Simantob. “Somebody failed him.”
Simantob said given the long history of the Yuba County Jail, that the family is mostly seeking justice, not money.
“We plan on holding them accountable,” said Simantob.
Garza previously charged
In 2004, Garza was charged with misdemeanor false imprisonment by Santa Clara County prosecutors in relation to an alleged hazing incident at a Morgan Hill motel.
Garza, along with others, was accused of tackling another deputy, Chad Ellis, and duct-taping his legs, according to a declaration from a Morgan Hill police detective that was released by the District Attorney’s Office. Ellis suffered a shoulder injury as a result of the incident.
Garza later pleaded no contest to the false imprisonment charge and was placed on probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service as a result.
Anderson confirmed that Garza has been with the department since 1991. According to the sheriff’s department website, Garza was promoted to captain in 2019.
In the lawsuit brought by Vue, it alleges that “Garza was aware that his deputies were providing inadequate medical care and/or denying medical care to arrestees at the Yuba County Jail, and failed to prevent his subordinates from engaging in such conduct.”