COVID-19 & Justice

Two More Covid-19 Deaths in CA’s Prison System, This Time One of the Dead is a Custody Officer

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

This past Saturday the first staff member working in the state’s 35-facility prison system has died from COVID-19 and/or its complications.

Custody Officer Danny Mendoza was 53 when he died.  He had been with the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation for 24 years, after first being appointed to the CDCR as a cadet in 1996.

Mendoza was working at the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) in Norco when he tested positive for the virus, and his condition quickly worsened.

“I am deeply saddened by this dedicated officer’s passing,” said CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz of Mendoza’s death. “My prayers are with the Mendoza family during this challenging time, and I know that everyone at CDCR sends their condolences and support.”

The prison’s staff and other public safety employees including the those from the Corona Police Department, members of the California Highway Patrol, the Corona Fire Department, the Riverside County Fire Department, and the Riverside County Coroner’s Office, came out to honor Officer Mendoza with a vehicle procession on Saturday — one moment of which you can see in the photo above.

Two Deaths and skyrocketing virus numbers.

The sad news of Officer Mendoza’s death was only one day old when, on Sunday, May 31, there was another death among the residents of the Chino-located California Institute for Men (CIM)—bringing the death total for that virus-troubled facility to ten.

The two deaths over the weekend occurred as the already fast-spreading virus inside several of California’s prisons continued to worsen

On May 26, WitnessLA reported on the spiking numbers of those who tested positive for COVID-19 inside a cluster of CDCR facilities.

At that time, the system’s worst outbreak was occurring in the California Institute for Men where 635 people, or close to 20 percent of the CIM’s inmate population, had tested positive.

As of today, even with a new total of 656 who have tested positive in CIM, the Chino prison is no longer the leader in overall COVID-19 cases.

That sad honor now goes to Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP).

Last week CVSP had 110 residents testing positive. Today — a mere eight days later — the Chuckawalla numbers have multiplied eight times over to 761 people infected.

Last week, Avenal State Prison (ASP), located in rural King County, had 198 people testing positive.

Today, June 1, Avenal’s numbers have nearly tripled to 593 who are now COVID-19 positive.

The California Institution for Women (CIW), has 158 infected females residents.

And the list goes on with the positive test numbers at some facilities just beginning an upward climb.

Unfortunately — as Officer Danny Mendoza’s death has sadly demonstrated — those who work in the state’s prisons, and their families, are far from safe either.

As of today, 470 staff members have been infected.

Now that the CDCR has decided to require testing of all those working in the state’s most affected facilities, it is assumed by many that those staff numbers may soon be higher.

Bottom line: for whatever reason, in certain facilities anyway, the CDCR seems unable to keep staff members or residents very safe.

We’ll have more on this last point soon.


June 4, three days after the original publication of this story, the number of residents testing positive in Avenal has jumped by 200 to an even 800 sick with the virus.

Chuckawalla Valley State Prison is now up to 828 people inside the facility who are infected.

At California Institution for Men, CIM, two more residents have died, bringing that sad total to 12 dead of the virus.


  • What is the title of the article meant to convoy?? Many law enforcement personnel have died working in and out of custodial environments already. This is old news! It’s a bit too late to “feign concern” over the death of a non-criminal.

  • I understand the inmates are there for a reason, how can they be safe when the asymptotic ones are housed with the infected inmates. They are not isolated but separated with caution tape. If one tested positive on May 15th and currently only the temperature is being read, how safe are they. May 15th to June 7th ~ that is 24 days being housed with individuals that are either asymptotic or infected.


    • You’re right, they’re also constantly moving inmates and infecting the entire facility. YESTERDAY THE POSITIVES WERE …. 986

      This is at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison – Blythe, California

  • We read many similar stories on the spread of this virus in many of our detention facilities throughout the country. We know detained adults as well as our detained minors in Juvenile halls purposely infect themselves with hopes of the almighty “get-out-of-jail-Free” Card. Why not do a story on the lack of protection for the line staff who work with the teen population in the juvenile halls. Why not do a follow up story on the Assistant DA who contracted Covid-19 at BJNJH courthouse in Sylmar that threatened many minors and staff at that the detention facility. Has the person recovered. Why not do a story on, “Is social distancing being practiced in the juvenile halls”, and what about the juvenile hall schools? Are these detained kids provided computers by LAUSD to do their school work in their cells for their safety and the safety of others. Or are these kids being defiant and refuse to do anything related to school work. Do the positive cases of Covid-19 in juvenile hall get reported to the CDC. I maybe mistaken, but is it true that California Juvenile Probation is being shut down in favor of Community Counselors, Child Protective Service’s and Mental Healthcare. We all know, when California flecks it’s muscles for change, Los Angeles always try to step up to lead the way, especially with limited tax revenue collected by the city due to Covid-19. Thus, a reduction in county jobs and services. This Covid-19 is going to be a future challenge.

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