DUBLIN -- The death of an inmate at Santa Rita Jail three years ago is costing Alameda County and its jail health care provider $1 million to settle a federal lawsuit.
The family of Martin Harrison sued the county in 2011 alleging that the 51-year-old was "beaten, repeatedly struck, kicked, brutalized, repeatedly tased and improperly restrained" by sheriff's deputies inside his cell block on Aug. 16, 2010. He died two days after the confrontation.
Alameda County is forking over $500,000 as part of a settlement with Harrison's 10-year-old son. The other half-million is coming from Tennessee-based Corizon Health, which contracts with the county to provide health services at the jail.
Harrison, who was from Oakland, had been arrested several days before his death for failing to appear for a court hearing on a drunken-driving charge. He was a chronic alcoholic but otherwise healthy, said Oakland lawyer John Burris, who represented the 10-year-old son.
"The child lost his dad and it's been devastating for him," Burris said Friday.
A fight with Alameda County sheriff's deputies, who guard inmates at the Dublin jail, began after Harrison was acting erratically and making a mess of his cell, breaking food trays, screaming and blocking a toilet -- behaviors that might have been tied to his severe alcohol withdrawal, according to his family's lawsuit.
The Sheriff's Office has said Harrison broke free and charged at deputies who were trying to persuade him to move from the cell so it could be cleaned. Two of the officers were placed on administrative leave after the death but were later reinstated after an internal investigation.
A deputy who deployed his Taser to shock and subdue Harrison testified in a deposition last year that the inmate had ignored his warnings and moved at him aggressively. He also said Harrison's demeanor in the days before the confrontation was "as somebody who may have been (for the) first time in jail, kind of maybe lost a little bit. Didn't know where he kind of fit in. Wasn't, you know, hanging around any other inmates."
The lawsuit accused deputies of using extreme and deadly force against Harrison, causing him to be transferred to the jail infirmary and eventually a nearby hospital, where he died after having a heart attack. It also claims he did not get proper medical care from Prison Health Services, which later merged with Corizon.
Four adult children of Harrison are also pursuing their own litigation with the county and Corizon. That case has not been resolved.
Of the $1 million settlement costs split by the county and Corizon, $745,000 will go to an account for Harrison's youngest child. Other money compensates his lawyers. The boy was a 7-year-old preparing to enter second grade when his father died.
Matt O'Brien covers Alameda County. Contact him at 510-208-6429.