Family of San Quentin guard who died of COVID-19 sues prison

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (KRON) – On Tuesday, a civil lawsuit was filed against officials at San Quentin Prison and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for the death of a prison guard, who died after getting COVID-19 while he was on duty.

“Basically these CDCR officials created a COVID Cess Pool and then required their inmates and employees to marinate in it,” Julia Sherwin, attorney for the Polanco family, said. 

That accusation sums up the basis for this civil lawsuit filed against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on behalf of the family of Sgt. Gilbert Polanco. 

He died last August following an outbreak of COVID-19 where he worked at San Quentin State Prison. 

Co-counsel for the Polanco family Julia Sherwin describes the circumstances leading to Sgt. Polanco’s death from COVID-19.

“Back on May 30th of 2020 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation transferred 122 inmates from the California Institute for Men in Chino to San Quentin State Prison in Marin County and that kicked off a wildfire of COVID in the prison that was catastrophic,” Sherwin said. 

“There is many things the government can do but they can’t make decisions that create an obvious or known risk of death or serious injury to many people, and that’s exactly what they did here. Sadly Gilbert Polanco gave his life for his job and his San Quentin family. Whom he loved almost as much as his own family,” Micheal Haddad, attorney for the Polanco family, said. 

55-year-old Gilbert Polanco was an Army veteran who started working at San Quentin Prison when he was 21-years-old. 

He is remembered as a loving father, devoted husband, and dutiful CDCR employee. 

“I didn’t want him to go like that. I asked him not to. Let someone else take that other shift and he would tell me there is nobody. They have no one,” wife Patricia Polanco said. 

According to CDCR population COVID-19 tracking, San Quentin has had a total of 28 deaths and currently, among employees, there are 12 active COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days.  

Regarding the lawsuit, a CDCR representative sent KRON4 a statement that reads in part:

“On the Polanco matter, CDCR has not been served with the lawsuit, but we will evaluate the details and determine next steps. We extend our deepest condolences to Sgt. Polanco’s family, friends and colleagues.”

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