SF, Inmates Reach Tentative Deal Over Jail Sewage Flooding

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Officials say inmates at the San Francisco County Jail No. 4 were swamped with sewage after faulty plumbing burst between January 2017 and September 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Francisco city officials have reached a tentative agreement to settle a lawsuit with 217 inmates in the county jail where overflowing sewage leaked for more than a year after faulty plumbing burst in late 2016.

At the time, hazmat crews evacuated some offices to install a trap device — further backing up sewage, officials said. The sewage began to spill out of toilets and pipes in the jail at the beginning of 2017, continuing  until September 2018.

During this time, inmates would often have to clean up the sewage without proper cleaning supplies, said Stanley Goff, a civil rights attorney representing the group. The inmates were also left without access to showers and drinking water for hours since jail staff had to shut off water when flooding occurred.

"Imagine ... you're sleeping, you wake up in the middle of the night, you hear water, you put your feet down to get out of your bunk and all of a sudden your feet and your socks are soaked in raw sewage, all your stuff has been soiled," said Fulvio Cajina, another civil rights attorney representing the inmates.

The lawsuit was filed in late 2018 after inmates submitted informal grievances with the county jail to no avail, Goff said.

"It was inhumane," he said. "I think that society expects for us to treat dogs better than that."

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Cajina said the lawsuit took time to file because many inmates were only in the jail for short periods. Some faced homelessness and mental health issues and were not in the best position to defend their rights, he added.

A separate class action lawsuit over the sewage was filed on behalf of seven inmates. Should a settlement be reached, it would include all inmates from both lawsuits.

In 2015, supervisors looked into spending $215 million to build a replacement jail due to seismic issues, but the plan was rejected.

In October 2019, Mayor London Breed announced a plan to shut down the  jail and relocate its inmates by 2021. The order follows years of warnings that the structure could crumble in a major earthquake, though there is no set deadline for the move.

The city attorney’s and sheriff's office did not return phone calls and messages seeking comment on the tentative deal over the sewage problems. The Board of Supervisors and the federal court must still approve the final settlement, officials said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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