Last week, a California judge ruled for the first time that an African American former inmate can sue the state under a hate crimes law for housing him in a facility where Valley fever was known to occur.
Valley fever is an infection caused by a fungus that lives in the soil of certain regions, like California's dusty Central Valley. There's no cure for it, no vaccine, and it can be fatal in some cases.
The disease has long been a problem in California's prisons, and African American, Latino and Filipino inmates are especially susceptible to the disease.
Glenn Towery is the plaintiff in this case. He contracted Valley fever while incarcerated in the Central Valley.
Numerous other lawsuits have been filed on behalf of California inmates who contracted the disease while in prison. However, suits have either been filed in federal court, where judges have been less hospitable to plaintiffs, or have been unsuccessful because state officials are protected by "qualified immunity."
In Towery's case, Superior Court Judge Stuart M. Rice has allowed attorneys for the plaintiff to proceed under the Bane Act, California's civil rights statute. Under the Bane Act, "qualified immunity" does not apply, and "willfulness" on the part of the defense is stipulated.
"The reason that [the plaintiff] is allowed to sue under the Bane Act is, because, by knowing that this disease is a problem, and by knowing that [Towery] is part of a population that is particularly affected by it, the state knowingly and willingly endangered his life by moving him [to a Central Valley prison]," said San Francisco Daily Journal reporter Andy Serbe.
Serbe spoke with Take Two about Glenn Towery's case.
To listen to Take Two's entire interview with Andy Serbe, please click on the audio player above.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does not comment on pending lawsuits, but sent Take Two the following statement:
"We have put in place numerous measures in our prisons to reduce the amount of dust, and the movement of dust, particularly into buildings. We have also moved inmates deemed at higher risk and who chose to move out of the two prisons in the valley fever endemic zone. We have also worked with state and federal public health partners to study further methods of reducing the incidence of valley fever in Avenal and Pleasant Valley prisons and mitigation efforts continue."