Inmate May be Released to Family After Jail Attack that Left Him in ‘Near Coma State’

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SACRAMENTO -- The family of a man in a near coma state is suing Sacramento County, saying the sheriff's department is responsible for the man's health issues and is refusing to pay for his medical care.

The dispute comes after the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to release a nearly brain-dead man from the county's custody.

Cliff Harris, an inmate at the Sacramento County Jail was beaten so badly by a cellmate, he's now in a vegetative state and relying on a machine to breathe.

"Look at him in the bed, that's not the man, the vibrant brother he once was,” said Cathy Lester.

Harris' sister, referencing photos of Harris in a hospital bed at UC Davis Medical Center, where he now lies guarded by a sheriff's deputy.

Harris was arrested in December 2015, and convicted last year of two felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment. He'd been sitting in the jail ever since, waiting to be sentenced.

Last month, however, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department says he was attacked and beaten by a cellmate. Now in a coma, and unlikely to wake up, the sheriff's department wants him released from jail, to his family. Family members weren’t notified until more than two weeks after the attack left Harris in his current state.

"They want to release him into our custody. And we wanted to know what do you mean when you say release him into our custody? We don't know anything about what's going on,” said Lester.

Attorney Mark Merin, now representing Harris' family, says Harris was the victim of multiple assaults while in jail. He says the sheriff's department knew it, and failed to protect him.

"Since they're responsible for the condition in which he's in, they continue to remain responsible. They have to care for him,” said Merin. “The family is in no position to pick up the ball here and take care of him. He needs 24-round-the-clock medical care."

Because it's a pending legal matter, the sheriff's department would not speak about the case. Nor would they confirm why they’re requesting Harris’ release from their custody. The District Attorney's Office also offered no comment and declined interview requests.

On Monday, a judge heard the district attorney's motion to transfer Harris to his family's custody, but no decisions were made. The hearing is rescheduled for Wednesday.

Making matters more complicated, Merin says, Harris was found guilty of his crimes. He's been convicted, but hasn't been sentenced yet.

"If he's been convicted, they have to reverse the conviction,” said Merin.

That’s a decision the DA’s office will have to request, and wait for a judge to approve.

In the meantime Harris' family is looking for more than a ruling, they want answers.


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