2 Investigates: Inmate dies at Santa Rita jail was wrongly arrested

Melvin Stubbs was in jail for a murder that never actually happened when he died in custody, according to new information uncovered by 2 Investigates. The Alameda County Coroner's Office says the cause of death for Stubbs' wife, Terry Cameron, was "acute bacterial meningitis." 

But Oakland Police say at the time of Stubbs' arrest there was enough circumstantial evidence for detectives to think some sort of foul play was involved in Cameron's death.

Homicide lieutenant Roland Holmgren said there was signs of a struggle, Stubbs had defensive wounds on his body, Cameron had a pillow over her face when she was found, and statements made by Stubbs during his police interview gave officers cause for concern.

"He was arrested for murder pending charges from the District Attorney's Office based on, or pending, the conclusion of an autopsy once we determine the cause of death," Holmgren said, adding that Stubbs could be held for 48 hours pending those charges.

Oakland police say the investigation into Cameron's death is still open as a "suspicious death" case.

ORIGINAL STORY 03/08/2016:

An inmate died in the medical unit at Santa Rita Jail over the weekend, about 90 minutes after he was booked, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s spokesman.

This most recent death comes just more than a week after the mother of another inmate who died in custody filed a federal lawsuit against Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and its jail medical provider, Corizon Health.

Melvin Stubbs, 65, was a diabetic and a leg amputee, according to Sheriff’s spokesman JD Nelson. He said Stubbs was originally arrested by Oakland Police on suspicion of murder.

Radio traffic audio confirms that OPD officers were called to Stubb’s home on Saturday afternoon to investigate the report of a dead body. Officers found a woman’s body and a conscious man, presumably Stubbs, at the scene.

Officers can be heard saying that they found “two parties on the ground” when they entered the apartment, after being let in by a manager. 

“We're trying to ascertain a little bit further on him,” an officer said over the radio, “but he's not answering questions very well due to what looks like a medical condition at this time.”

Nelson confirmed that Stubbs was taken to the hospital to stabilize his medical condition before arriving at Santa Rita. It’s unclear what happened during the 90 minutes after Stubbs was taken in the jail’s custody, where he was held, or how he was treated or assessed.

Corizon Health would not provide further details on Stubb’s medical condition or the assessment and intake process that he underwent. The company provided 2 Investigates with an email statement saying, in part, “We extend sincere condolences to the loved ones of Mr. Stubbs and encourage the public’s patience while the investigation into the cause of his death is completed.”

Last year Corizon settled a lawsuit for $8.3 million over the death of inmate Martin Harrison, 49, which focused on his intake assessment and claims that his diagnosis was botched by Corizon staff. Harrison was beaten and tased by Sheriff’s deputies at Santa Rita jail. The family’s attorney said Harrison was suffering from extreme alcohol withdrawal at the time. The lawsuit claimed that Corizon medical staff didn’t perform an adequate medical assessment and Harrison should have been hospitalized instead.

As part of the Harrison case settlement agreement, Corizon was required to restructure nurse staffing at its jail facilities. Specifically, all booking and intake assessments are now required to be performed by Registered Nurses (RNs) only, not Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs), who have received a lower level of training.

Earlier this year, Corizon laid off nearly 50 LVNs but have not replaced all their positions with newly-hired RNs yet. In February, the company let go another round of nearly a dozen LVNs, saying the cuts were being implemented to satisfy the Harrison settlement. However, nurses who still worked at the jail told 2 Investigates that the severe staffing shortages created “pandemonium” among medical staff who struggled to pick up the slack.

For months, 2 Investigates has been looking into Corizon’s track record nationwide and investigating the death of inmate Mario Martinez at Santa Rita jail. His mother recently filed a federal lawsuit claiming Corizon staff purposely delayed court-ordered treatments to address Martinez’s chronic breathing problems. He died in jail before the problem was ever fixed.

Corizon had denied that Martinez received anything other than “medically appropriate care” in his treatment.The company’s $237 million contract, the largest in the county, will expire in June of this year. The bid is currently open and four companies, including Corizon, are vying for the valuable deal, according to the county.

The mother of Mario Martinez says she wants to see medical care at the jails handed over to a different provider. The county is expected to announce the winning bidder in early June.


“Our nurses and doctors strive to provide our patients with the best possible medical care in an extremely difficult setting. Our goal is to provide quality healthcare to patients who enter incarceration with more illnesses and chronic conditions than the general public and we are deeply saddened by the loss of any patient. We extend sincere condolences to the loved ones of Mr. Stubbs and encourage the public’s patience while the investigation into the cause of his death is completed.”

“Given recent media coverage of union allegations related to our transition to a nursing staff composed completely of Registered Nurses, we believe it is important to note that Mr. Stubbs was cared for by an experienced member of our staff.”