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Paralyzed Prisoner Denied Medical Parole

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Steven Martinez was convicted of rape in San Diego in 1998 and has since become a quadriplegic in state prison. Martinez requires daily medical care that is estimated to cost the state $625,000 a year. Martinez is the first inmate to have his request for medical parole heard by the State Board of Parole Hearings. The state board ruled that Martinez still poses a threat to public safety and denied his request. We discuss the case with Martinez's attorney, Ken Karan, and Nina Salarno Ashford from Crime Victims United of California.


Ken Karan, attorney for Steven Martinez

Nina Salarno Ashford, executive board of directors attorney for Crime Victims United of California

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: It's Wednesday, May 25th, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Just days after the Supreme Court justices ordered California to reduce its prison population, the state parole board has denied the first request for release under a new medical parole law. The request came from 42 year-old Steven Martinez, convicted of a brutal rape in San Diego in 1998. Martinez was attacked in prison, and he was left a quadriplegic. His medical care reportedly costs the state over six hundred thousand dollars a year. Joining me now is Martinez' attorney, Ken Karan. Good afternoon, Ken.

KARAN: Good afternoon, Maureen, thanks for having me on.

CAVANAUGH: Now, why do you think Steven Martinez might be a candidate for the new medical parole law?

KARAN: Well, the criteria is pretty clear, there's only two issues, and that is whether these permanently mentally imcapacitiated, and everybody agrees that that's the case. And whether conditions of it -- of his parole would create a risk of -- to public safety. And the answer to both those questions is -- well, the answer to the first one is obvious, the second one is that he does not pose a threat to public safety.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of medical care does Mr. Martinez need on a daily basis?

KARAN: Well, he can't do anything for himself except to breathe. He is dependent on his nurses and medical staff in the prison hospital for everything single aspect of his life.

ST. JOHN: I read a figure of six hundred thousand dollars a year for his care. Why so much?

KARAN: Because you need 24 hour a day care, so nurses, he needs doctors, there are a lot of complications that people in his position are subjected to that are not addressed properly in the prison system. In fact, yesterda, I was told that he's -- at the end, suffering from a stage three skin break down.

ST. JOHN: Right. A large bed sore, basically.

KARAN: Right.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Now, if Martinez had been granted medical release, who would have taken over that care?

KARAN: Well, the way the laws's written, it would be -- the state would have 50 looked to federal benefits that Steve has earned through his working life in terms of Social Security. After that, as an indiggent person, he would have been eligible for Medi-Cal, and if there's any thing -- any balance owed to the care providers, it would come from the state.

CAVANAUGH: Is part of that six hundred thousand dollar figure -- is it based on the idea that Mr. Martinez is in prison? In other words, if he were granted medical release, would it still cost that much to keep up his care?

KARAN: Well, the latest figure that aye heard is that it's costing to incarcerate Mr. Martinez, including the cost of custody and medical care one point six million dollars a year.


KARAN: Now, while I think that the board did their best or tried to consider all the factors in this case, unfortunately fear won over reason. And while the statue is intended to protect against threats to public safety, to the city, to deny Mr. Martinez parole, actually increases the risks to public safety because we're now responding precious resources needlessly to incarcerate somebody when we could be using that money for additional policing efforts, crime prevention efforts, programs to rehabilitate offenders. So it's my opinion that the public is les safe now with this decision.

ST. JOHN: What did the parole board say as they denied this request? What reason did they give?

KARAN: The primary reason is that Mr. Martinez has been disrespectful to his nurses, in large part. And if he has been, it's because he doesn't trust his nurses. And he's got a good reason to. First of all, he was stabbed and rendered a quadriplegic when he was under the care of the state. After the state took over his medical care, he suffered a devastating stage four pressure -- or bed sore. And there are other instances where neglect and abuse in mis medical care has led to his near death. So all of these incidents have caused Mr. Martinez to suffer from, and he's been diagnosed as suffering from a post traumatic stress disorder. In that condition, any slightest threat or perceived threat to a person's safety is reacted to very strongly. People in his position are hyper vigilant to threats to their safety.

CAVANAUGH: So Ken, just to be clear, even though Steven Martinez can now only really sort of move his head, everything else is paralyzed, the state parole board is saying that his attitude, his threats to his care givers are still so angry that they pose a danger; is that right?

KARAN: Well, let's be clear about what we mean by threats. He's saying that if you harm me, I'm gonna inform somebody like my attorney or my parents and we're gonna take some legitimate action, and that's right, he has told people that he is going to hold them accountable for his care. He's never made any legitimate threats that he was gonna harm somebody. There's -- this whole idea that he could potentially exercise some ill will through somebody else just doesn't stand up to any kind of rational scrutiny because it -- in fact, one of the theories under which we believe he was attacked to begin with was that he wouldn't join a prison gang. He's never been involved in any gang activity. He has no tattoos. He's been isolated from the prison population for the last 10 years.

ST. JOHN: Ken, let me bring in my second guest here, Nina solanno ash Ford is an attorney on the executive board of directors of crime victims united of California. And I just wanna get your over all reaction. Do you support the state parole board's decision to deny Steven Martinez' request for medical parole?

BARBER: Yes, without having the benefits that council has had there, and not knowing the full factor, I still would support the California board of prison terms, board of parole hearing's decision. They obviously looked up all factors from his institutional life from the beginning. Obviously something generated a fight where he got stabbed. So there's been issue of violence there. I'm sure they looked up that. And I disagree -- I also don't want them to look at his rehabilitation, and if he's treatingly the nurses who I assume mostly are women in a disingenuous, disrespectful manner, then he's not rehabilitated which is also a part of being released and on parole.

ST. JOHN: Nina, how about the argument on the face of it that has a quadriplegic, Mr. Martinez really poses no credible threat to society, and that the state would save estimates of six hundred thousand to a million dollars a year in releasing him from the prison system?

BARBER: Well, first of all, the state's not gonna save money, because as I just heard council, he's indiggent, we're still gonna pick up the tab. And I don't know much about his working life prior to his institution years, he's been incarcerated for a rong time. My understanding, he was not idle, so I don't think he would have federal benefits anyway. So I don't think that's a fair argument. And given his background and his affiliations, the little bit I know about it, I'm not so sure he doesn't pose a threat. As we all know, somebody has connections in gangs or others that they can use those to perpetrate harm. You don't have to be the person to perpetrate the harm. Suki Williams was a perfect example. He was still ordering gang hits while he was incarcerated. So to say that he doesn't pose a threat, the parole board has to carefully read through the entire record and assess it. They obviously found more in his background that I'm not prisony to, I was not at the hearing. The other thing is, the victim has a right to have him serve his sentence. This woman was beaten and raped savagely. You know, he's a quadriplegic, yes, but he's still a vicious criminal. And that victim has a right to see that sentence carried out.

ST. JOHN: So, along those lines of reasoning, is your organization opposed to the idea of medical parole, regardless of the situation?

BARBER: Not opposed to it, but it has to be carefully scrutinized. It has to take in not just the issues of whether or not they're gonna commit a crime on the outside, what are their affiliations, are they rehabilitated? It sounds like to me this particular inmate is not. He has an issue with women to begin with, and he's still just being disrespectful to them.

ST. JOHN: Kevin, if your client is not a proper candidate for medical parole -- excuse me, Ken. If your client is not a proper candidate for medical parole, who do you think would be?

KARAN: Nobody. That's really what this is coming down to. And I need to correct a couple things from Ms. Ash Ford. First 've all, and she's remiddle that she really doesn't know enough about the facts of this case to be offering any opinions. First of all, Mr. Martinez was attacked from behind, he wasn't involved in a fight. He was ambushed, and we have video surveillance to support that. In fact, he had disputes with mostly women in prisons because mostly women are nurses in prison. He has as many disputes with the male staff as he does with the women staff. So it's not an, that he doesn't like women. In fact, the record shows that ninety-nine percent of the time he gets along fine with the staff. It's only when he's dealing with people who feel like it's their job to find justice in the medical care that they provide. Saying the state is not gonna save money doesn't make sense. A million dollars a year saving money. The in fact fact that Mr. Martinez does have Social Security benefits, we have documents of that. It's easier to make hits or call shots in prison than it is on the outside. And like I said, Mr. Martinez has never been affiliated with a gang. He's been isolated for 10 years. Where's the network gonna come from that he's gonna carry out these conspiracies? As for the victim, she's right, Ms. Ash Ford, if Mrs. Ash Ford really wanted to advocate in favor of the person who was harmed in this case, she would be supporting of parole. Because this woman -- and I want to say I have had the opportunity to meet this woman, and she is -- and I've had the good fortunate to have met her. She is an amazing person, resilient with a lot of character, and she is in support. Not only is she not opposing the parole, she is advocating in favor of it.

CAVANAUGH: Ken, I want to ask you, this is the third time that your client has been turned down for some sort of medical release, compassionate or medical release. Are you gonna continue to appeal for his release?

KARAN: Well, that's certainly an option. We're considering all of our options. We believe that the law is written in such a way that it creates a reasonableness standard for the Courts to review the decision. I believe that the -- if we were to actually look at the documents, the reports of Mr. Martinez's conduct in prison, we would find out that they're completely unreliable, in particular the most damning one is in the records, it violated many of the procedural protections Mr. Martinez is entitle said to. In particular, the person who supposedly made the allegations of a threat, was not involved in the process in making a factual determination, and the only witness that was interviewed in that instance testified and did not hear any threats being made.

CAVANAUGH: Ken, we're just about out of time, and I do want to give Nina just one quick last word. Nina?

BARBER: Yes, and again I obviously was not there at the hearing. But I would say, and I've been an attorney in many, many hearings, that I know the California board of parole hearings have standards that they look at, they look at the entire record, and obviously they found him to still be I threat. And I believe that their decision would be proper. It's interesting to listen to council, it southbounds like nothing was this gentleman's fault. Obviously he has not done well in prison. He has not adjusted well. The fact that he's a quadriplegic, yes, okay, but there's other issues that they look at when denies parole.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And we will have to leave it there, I want to thank you both, Ken Karan is attorney for Steven Martinez, and Nina Solarno Ashford is an attorney on the executive board of directors with crime victims united of California. Thank you both.


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