Contra Costa County Inmate Brian Pence Jr (Full Name: Brian Love Pence Jr), of Antioch, Died In-Custody At Martinez Detention Facility

MARTINEZ, CALIFORNIA (August 13, 2023) – A 31-year-old inmate identified as Brian Pence Jr has tragically died after being found unconscious in his cell at the Martinez Detention Facility.

Contra Costa County officials are saying that the incident took place on Tuesday. Brian Pence Jr tested positive for Covid-19 during the jail intake process.

Subsequently, he was placed into a quarantine cell by himself. Correctional officers were conducting welfare checks when they noticed that he was not moving.

Paramedics were called to the scene in order to help him. Despite life-saving measures, Brian Pence Jr was pronounced dead inside of his jail cell.

The sheriff’s office said that they did not encounter any evidence of foul play. A Contra Costa coroner’s jury later determined that he died of “natural” causes.


Liability For Inmate Deaths At The Martinez Detention Facility

Thousands of inmates die in-custody every year from preventable causes. According to the UCLA’s Behind Bars Data Project, “In 2020, at least 6,182 people died in U.S. prisons.  This is a 46% increase in the lives lost behind bars from 2019, despite a 10% decrease in the overall prison population.” Complications due to Covid-19 was one of the leading causes of inmate death in the early days of the pandemic. In fact, it was estimated that nearly 2,500 inmates in state and federal prisons died of Covid-19 from March 2020 to February 2021. According to Everyday Health,  there are a number of ways that Covid-19 could potentially kill a vulnerable patient.

  • The virus can attack the endothelial cells, which regulates exchanges between the bloodstream and surrounding tissue.
  • The virus can lead blood cells to become coagulated.
  • Covid-19 can lead to severe pneumonia and deprive the host of needed oxygen.

Inmates have a constitutional right to receive reasonably adequate healthcare. Failing to give inmates adequate care is a deprivation of their Eighth Amendment rights. A prison could be liable for the death of an inmate that died due to Covid-19. To succeed in such a claim, a plaintiff would need to show that the jail was deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need. Liability may also occur if a jail failed to address a substantial risk of future harm. With respect to Covid-19, there are a number of acts or omissions that a prison could make that may contribute to a death from the virus.

A prison may have failed to take reasonable actions to prevent the spread of the disease. Indeed, early in the pandemic, 8 out of the top 10 Coronavirus hot-spots were prisons and jails. Moreover, a jail may have failed to properly care for an inmate with underlying health conditions thereby making them more vulnerable to the virus. According to the CDC, obesity, diabetes, asthma or chronic lung disease, sickle cell disease and autoimmune conditions can increase the risk of serious illness or death due to Covid-19. There are a number of steps to take after any in-custody death.

  • The death certificate of the inmate should be reviewed.
  • An independent autopsy may need to be performed.
  • It should be understood if Covid-19 contributed to an inmate’s death.
  • If an inmate did have Covid-19, the conditions of their confinement should be understood.
  • The conditions of the jail where the death took place should be examined.
  • An experienced civil rights attorney should be contacted.

Far too often, jails or coroners will list in-custody deaths as “natural.” But this is often highly misleading. There is seldom anything totally “natural” about people in their 20’s and 30’s dying in custody. In many situations, these deaths were brought about due to improper care even if they have natural contributing factors. The family of any person that died in-custody may have legal recourse through a constitutional claim. A civil rights attorney can examine all of the unique facts of your case and let you know what your legal options are.


Investigating Inmate Deaths At The Martinez Detention Facility

We at the Sehat Law Firm extend our deepest condolences to the family of Brian Pence Jr. Any person that may have more information about what happened should reach out to investigators. It is our sincere hope that steps are taken to prevent other tragedies like this. There are so many questions that still need to be answered about what happened.

Do you need more information about an inmate death at the Martinez Detention Facility? Our team of civil rights advocates may be able to help you. We focus on helping people who have been harmed due to jail neglect. We are committed to helping inmates understand their constitutional rights and holding jails accountable for their neglect. Whether you just have legal questions or need a free, independent investigation into any incident we are here for you. You can reach out to us anytime at (949) 825-5200.

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