A San Diego federal judge ruled that reports about the conditions of jails and prisoners in San Diego County that the county government wanted to keep confidential are valuable pieces of information that the public is entitled to see after some redactions are made. The ruling came after a settlement of a lawsuit filed by Frankie Greer, an Army veteran with chronic seizures who, after being arrested by San Diego Sheriff’s deputies and booked into San Diego Central Jail in 2018, had a seizure after being refused his medication, fell off a top bunk bed in his cell and suffered a serious brain injury, reports Courthouse News Service. Greer won a $7.75 million settlement with the county, but the settlement left open disputes about publicly releasing reports from the Sheriff’s Departments Critical Incident Review Board, an internal panel that reviews major incidents, like in-custody deaths and other problems, whose reports were filed under seal.
Greer’s attorneys requested to unseal the documents in the case, but that request was declared moot when the settlement was reached. Greer’s lawyers said the reports would establish a pattern of neglect in the county’s jails. Three media organizations, the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego and Prison Legal News made a motion to intervene in the case to get the county to release the records. “The public has a strong First Amendment interest in these documents,” said James Davis, an attorney for the media interveners. Davis added that the documents would allow the news organizations to inform their readers about how taxpayer money is spent and keep their local government accountable. U.S. District Judge Jinsook Ohta agreed with the media organizations that the reports are of public concern, but the county could redact some information from the documents to protecting third-party privacy. Last year, the California State Auditor released a report that found 185 people died in San Diego County jails from 2006 to 2020, one of the highest rates of inmate deaths in county jails in the state.