Is Not A Capital Crime
Joanie Holmes Dies in Sonoma County Jail
is based on interviews with several women incarcerated in Sonoma
County Jail June 2-4, 1997. The witnesses' names have been changed
to prevent retaliation.)
On June 2,
1997, Joanne Marie ("Joanie") Holmes was booked into Sonoma County
Jail on an outstanding prostitution warrant. Two days later she
was dead the fifth person to die at the hands of police
or in custody since the first of the year.
"I saw her
after booking," Crystal told me. "She was flyin' on something;
but she wasn't sick she wasn't dyin'." But soon after she
was put in a cell, Joanie Holmes became desperately ill. "She
was throwing up constantly really violently sick
gasping for air. All the time she was pushing that call button
and asking for medical help. It was horrible," Crystal continued.
Medical help never came.
In fact, Joanie
Holmes was horribly sick and asking for a medic for all of the
last three days of her life. "She would hit the call button, and
they would buzz open her door and wait," Donna, another inmate,
reports. "When she didn't come out, they'd come up and just close
her door. Once a guard told her to fill out a call slip and turn
it in down at central. That was it then he just left her
By the second
day, still vomiting all day, Joanie was noticeably weaker. According
to the women I interviewed, as Joanie's condition worsened, her
treatment by jail personnel deteriorated even further. By this
time other inmates were telling the guards, "That girl desperately
needs help. She's really sick and needs a medic." Alicia says
the guards would say, "We know, we know," but still no medic came.
"They treated her like a junkie; a piece of garbage like
she was a waste of their time. I mean, they went overboard to
ignore her," Crystal says.
On the morning
of June 4th, the guards brought a wheelchair to take Joanie to
court. "They were makin' jokes about her that she was grossin'
them out," Alicia
told me. "They stood downstairs and yelled her name over and over,
yelling for her to come out. Finally, the guy went up to her room,
came back and said, ‘Forget it, we're leaving without her.'"
By this time
Joanie was reportedly so weak she just moaned all day long
she moaned. Around 2:00 p.m. she came out into the courtyard for
maybe ten minutes, then returned to her room. The women spoke
of this, the last time they saw Joanie alive.
believe it was the same person. Her skin was grey almost
black; her bottom eyelids were pulled away from her eyeballs.
She had deep black circles under her eyes, and her skin was wrinkled;
hanging. Her face looked like death," according to Crystal. Clearly
Joanie was severely dehydrated by this time. Surely the jail personnel
too saw the signs. Still they did nothing.
the sounds of Joanie Holmes' desperate fight for life "just stopped"
sometime around 3 p.m. on June 4th. Jail officials say they discovered
her at 6 p.m., and pronounced her dead at 6:28.
the guard called her over the intercom because ‘classification'
was there to see her," Donna remembers. When she didn't answer,
the guard went up to her room and stood there yelling Joanie's
name over and over. "I think he knew she was dead then," Donna
reports, "because then he yelled down for the woman from classification
to come up to the room, which is just not procedure classification
never comes up to the rooms. I think the guard just wanted somebody
else to find her dead,"
When the classification
official entered the room, she too yelled Joanie's name and then,
after a brief silence ran to the railing and shouted, "Oh my god,
she's dead. She's dead!" Alicia says it took another 20-30 minutes
before a medical person came to the room, claimed there was a
faint pulse and sent for oxygen. Another 10 minutes passed before
the oxygen arrived. But Joanie Holmes was already dead.
have to die that way, suffering for three days it was so
cruel," Donna wailed, as she caressed her own small children.
"The thing that haunts me is that Joanie had two little kids,
an 8-month old baby and a 2-year old. She was booked on a no-bail
hold, so she was going to be in jail long enough to kick the drugs,
and maybe could have made a fresh start. Instead those kids are
motherless." Crystal goes further: "That was torture, what they
did to her. I've never seen anything so inhumane. I couldn't do
that to my worst enemy."
Note. A wrongful death lawsuit against the Sonoma County Jail
on behalf of Joanie Holmes' children was settled in late 2000
for an undisclosed amount of money.)