By Nicholas Ibarra  | OBSERVER Staff Writer

A poster of the late Antonio Thomas demanding justice during a rally held at the Sacramento County Main Jail. Nicholas Ibarra, OBSERVER.

On what would’ve been Antonio Thomas’ 42nd birthday, his family — and others whose relatives died in custody — held a press conference at the Sacramento County Main Jail demanding justice from Sheriff Scott Jones.

Among the protestors were the families of Thomas, Marshall Miles and William Stevens, as well as community activists, speaking out against Jones’ campaign for Congress. Jones is running for the newly formed 3rd Congressional District.

The Anti Police-Terror Project and Decarcerate Sacramento organized the protest.

The press conference began with Mark Merin, the civil rights attorney representing the Thomas family, calling out Sacramento County and demanding recourse for the jail system’s negligence and injustices.

“Their actions are absolutely indefensible. Your life is at risk going into jail here,” Merin said. “They’re supposed to serve and protect, but it’s quite the contrary.”

Anita Thomas held posters memorializing her son Antonio as she demanded answers and justice for her son, who was killed while in police custody in 2020.

“Every day is hard. Every day I wonder what happened to my son. He was only here for two days before his life was taken,” Thomas said. “I have no answers and I want answers. I won’t stop until I get them. I will fight as long as I have to until I find out what happened to my son.”

Questions were also raised as to why COVID-19 remains rampant in Sacramento County jails after millions of dollars were allocated to virus countermeasures. They want Jones to answer those questions.

William Stevens contracted COVID-19 while incarcerated at the Sacramento County jail and died when his medical needs were not met.

According to data from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, as of Feb. 23, 3,493 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in county jails since March 2020. Three inmates have died from COVID-19. The county has 52 inmates with confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. Here is a closer look at the numbers:

Screenshot of COVID data taken from the website of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office. The numbers are updated weekly. Nicholas Ibarra, OBSERVER.

“We know that the millions of dollars that have come into this county for COVID-19 have not been spent inside these walls to prevent folks from dying,” said Asantewa Boykin of the Anti Police-Terror Project and Mental Health First. “So where was that money spent? We know that Scott Jones misappropriated funds, yet he is still being allowed to run in a district that was intentionally rigged in his favor. If that is not a demonstration of white supremacy, I don’t know what is.”

Tifanei Ressl-Moyer of Decarcerate Sacramento shared a statement by Kinte Graves, who is incarcerated at the Sacramento County Main Jail. 

“As of today, individuals refuse to test. They group a bunch of us into a cell, expect us to test, and then punish us if we’re positive,” Graves’ statement read. “If positive, we’re thrown in isolation. We only get to be outside our cell for 15 minutes every four days, to use the phone and shower, and then it’s back to the cell for another four days.”

“It’s horrible. There’s individuals in here that are really scared because there’s no proper oversight to what’s going on. It’s scary. It’s really scary,” the statement read.

Merin blamed Jones directly.

“It is absolutely indefensible,” he said. “The public has a right to judge public officials. We [the public] should be able to see what they do, criticize them, and bring change. Instead of being transparent, this jail is fighting in federal court to keep secrets.” 

Merin said that custodial and classification files kept by the sheriff’s department would report what has been happening in the jail. The office has claimed those documents are confidential. Merin said they are fighting for their release.

A giant portrait reading, “Justice for Antonio Thomas,” being held by his cousins. Nicholas Ibarra, OBSERVER.

“We think it’s an unnecessary extension of confidentiality and prevents important information from actually being reviewed by the public,” he said.

Ressl-Moyer challenged the sheriff’s office’s accounts of what’s happening in the county’s jails.

“They are lies,” she said. “[That’s] according to the very people of our community who are incarcerated behind these concrete walls and behind steel cages.”

There were no department press officials or representatives at the conference and no comments were made after attempts by The OBSERVER.