The Alarming Pattern of Inmate Deaths in Kern County
The death of Shai Rogers and the subsequent case brought forth by his mother (represented by Greg Kirakosian and Kirakosian Law) is bringing to light an extremely alarming issue: inmates are dying in custody at an alarming rate.
Shai Rogers was the 7th of 8 inmates who died while under custody in Kern County in 2023 alone. Reporting inmate deaths publicly is now mandatory in Kern County. The Sheriff’s public record shows the following:
Some notable points:
- the deaths are spread out across various months at an alarming rate of almost 1 death per month
- Age and race are not a factor
- Split even between white and non-white
- Split even between over 40 and under 40
- All happened while under custody in a Kern County facility
- The only death not under investigation is a 42, white male who passed away in February
- The earliest case from January, a 42 Asian male, is still under investigation
For reference, 31 people have died in LA County jails this year. This is notable because LA County has 10 times the population than Kern County (about 10 to 1 as of 2019). This means that Kern County has nearly three times as many inmate deaths as Los Angeles County. It is also important to keep in mind that, according to Statistia, the number one cause of death in inmate fatalities as of 2019 was suicide.
Within context, the case of Shia Rogers seems all the more significant when you account for the fact that he died while in what is known as suicide watch.
Shai Rogers: A Tragic Case of Negligence
Shai Rogers, who became the 4th inmate out of the 8 to die in custody (again 7 of these 8 cases still have ongoing investigations) died by suicide while being held at the Lerdo Pre-trial facility on April 21.
As a result, Angel Rogers, the mother of Shai Rogers, has taken legal action and hired Greg Kirakosian, a known and respected civil rights lawyer. She is suing Kern County for the failure to provide adequate medical care, protection from harm, negligence, and violations of due process. The primary issue here is that Mr. Rogers was being held in suicide watch when this happened. Putting aside the obvious issues that have become pervasive in Kern County jails, suicide watch in itself is a supposed measure against the number one killer of inmates in the country: suicide.
As Greg Kirakosian noted, “You have one red flag after another red flag, then you start seeing these nightmare scenarios repeat and repeat and now or up to eight deaths in just this year alone.” The lack of patterns found in any demographics of the victims, other than them being all male, in the 8 deaths across the year and the fact that 7 of them are still under investigation gives weight to the argument that negligence is at the foundation of these deaths.
The Role of Civil Rights Attorney Greg Kirakosian
Greg Kirakosian has worked numerous cases related to civil rights against cities and the states along with the organizations that fall under them. Some notable recent cases that Greg has worked on are:
- Kelly Kaneko – Negligence that led to disfigurement and trauma at the teeth of a violent dog with a known history of attacks against people
- Natalie White v. Zafir Alpat – a celebrity, now fugitive, who sexually assaulted a young woman at an Airbnb rental in Hollywood
- Lyle Spruill – False arrest case against LAPD
Greg is no stranger to defending people who have had their rights ignored or flat out denied. As a civil rights lawyer, he pushes for defending or fighting for the rights each person has. Civil rights lawyers are crucial to citizens as they not only bring about justice to those in need of it, but they also lead to reform.
Civil rights lawyers are responsible for many of the positive changes that have come about in all levels of government. In this case, the hope is that change is brought to Kern County jails.
California Laws and Inmate Rights
There are many penal codes and laws that protect inmates. Some examples of these are:
- California Penal Code Section 2600:
- This section addresses the basic rights of prisoners in California, including the right to communicate with legal counsel, family, and friends. It also outlines the conditions under which these rights can be restricted: California Penal Code Section 2600
- California Penal Code Section 147:
- This section addresses the use of excessive force by correctional officers and penalties for such actions: California Penal Code Section 147
- California Penal Code Section 5000:
- This section outlines the purposes and goals of the California penal system, including the rehabilitation of inmates: California Penal Code Section 5000
The last one is especially interesting because it is very applicable to the Shai Rogers case by citing the principal reason for incarceration: rehabilitation for the sake of public safety. Rehabilitation, however, can only work if the inmate lives long enough to finish the process.
This is especially concerning when we take into account the 14th Amendment:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
And while the 14th Amendment continues to evolve and be re-interpreted constantly, the journey from protection to African American’s in a post-slavery America to protecting discrimination of all sorts today has been critical for many people suffering from negligence and abuses by the authorities placed over them. In Shai Roger’s case, his medical condition warranted care, protection, and attention that he simply did not receive. Discrimination against those who are mentally unwell and/or are inmates in the process of rehabilitation is a serious concern in America.
Beyond Bars: The Urgent Need for Change
To wrongfully die due to professional negligence is a tragedy indeed. The fact that a person is an inmate should not affect a person’s outlook on the seriousness of the matter. Inmates are citizens too who deserve all the protection and attention that human beings deserve. Many celebrities and athletes today, were at one point criminals. Tomorrow it may be you or someone you know and/or love.
Change begins with action and Kirakosian Law is committed to fighting for it by representing the Rogers family in their case against Kern County.