Danny Anderson has been diagnosed with COVID-19 while incarcerated at the California Institution for Men in Chino.
Anderson, a former Sonora doctor, was found guilty in a 2016 hit-and-run vehicle accident near Don Pedro Reservoir in Tuolumne County that left three people dead.
Anderson’s attorneys filed an emergency motion to the Fifth District Court of Appeal on Thursday seeking his release, which they’ve been attempting to do since early April because they say Anderson is at particularly high risk of complications from the virus due to his age and underlying health issues.
“I say in there basically that what we had feared all along has truly come to fruition in the sense of matters taking a distinct turn for the worse,” said Fresno-based attorney Roger Nuttall, who’s representing Anderson. “Exactly what we hoped wouldn’t happen has happened.”
Nuttall said he doesn’t know exactly when the court will rule on the motion. Anderson’s earliest eligibility for release on parole is Aug. 3.
There were 452 inmates at the Chino prison with active cases of the virus as of Monday afternoon, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in addition to 136 inmates who tested positive and have since recovered.
All six inmates in the state who have died from the disease were also at the prison, including one who was housed in the same dorm as Anderson at one point.
More than 3,500 inmates have been released from California prisons due to the pandemic out of concern that the notoriously overcrowded prison system could serve as an epicenter for a wider outbreak.
“It’s pretty well known that they are ill equipped to deal with it once it gets rolling,” Nuttall said.
Anderson’s attorneys have stated in previous motions for his release on bail pending an appeal of his conviction that he’s particularly at risk of complications from the virus because he’s almost 73 and suffers from asthma, diabetes and an autoimmune disease.
The motion filed on Thursday stated “without engaging in alarmism, the imminent and profound risk of irreparable harm and death to Danny Anderson presents as notably grave if immediate action is not taken by this Court.”
Nuttall said he doesn’t know Anderon’s current condition, but they have reserved a private ambulance to take him immediately to a hospital in Newport Beach that has experience treating coronavirus patients if his release on bail is approved.
Dana Simas, press secretary for the CDCR, stated the department would not comment on the personal medical information of inmates.
Anderson’s daughter, Heather, declined to comment but filed a declaration with the motion on Thursday stating that her father called her on Monday and said he was informed that morning he had tested positive for the virus.
Heather Anderson stated her father said 25 to 30 inmates, including himself, were taken out of their dorm Monday morning by officers and told they had the virus after his entire dorm was tested on May 14.
She further stated that her father and the other inmates were told that they might be transferred to isolation cells, a different dorm, or outside tents, but the institution was not sure yet where to place them and returned them to the same dorm.
The declaration by Heather Anderson stated her father called her again on Tuesday and said neither he nor any of the other inmates who tested positive had been moved to other quarters.
Danny Anderson, who maintains his innocence, has sought and been denied release from prison on bail pending his appeal multiple times prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, including by the California Supreme Court.
In July 2018, a jury found Danny Anderson guilty of three counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, reckless driving, hit and run, and a misdemeanor charge of obstructing a police investigation.
He was sentenced to five years, four months in prison and has served more than a year of that time at the prison in Chino.
Tuolumne County Superior Court Presiding Judge Donald Segerstrom denied a motion for Danny Anderson’s release in light of the pandemic on April 10.
Segerstrom said at the hearing that there was no way for him to know that Danny Anderson would be more likely to be infected by the virus in prison than on the outside, according to a court reporter’s official transcript of the hearing that was provided by Nuttall.
“It's the same for us in this room sitting six feet apart,” Segerstrom said. “There's no way of knowing whether we're going to be inflicted with this during this pandemic. And all we can do is the best we can.”
Danny Anderson’s attorneys have also filed an opening brief for an appeal to request a new trial on the grounds that the court wrongly rejected his request for a jury instruction that would direct attention to the defense’s theory that the accident was caused by someone else.
The appeal also argues for a new trial based on ineffective representation by Danny Anderson’s former attorney, Tom Johnson.
Nuttall said that if Danny Anderson is released on bail and his appeal for a new trial is denied, then he would return to prison and serve out the remaining days of his sentence.
On Oct. 21, 2016, Danny Anderson was driving north on La Grange Road near Bonds Flat Road in his white Acura MDX with his wife, Diane, in the passenger seat when authorities say he caused a head-on collision between two other cars by illegally crossing over the double yellow lines.
Tina Hoffman, 51, her daughter, Trista Hoffman, 16, and Reinholt Eismann, 72, died as a result of the collision, while three others suffered major injuries.
Anderson’s wife, Diane Anderson, was also convicted of felonies for being an accessory to vehicular manslaughter and failing to perform a duty after an accident, as well as misdemeanors for concealing or destroying evidence and obstructing a law enforcement investigation.
She was sentenced to 10 months in county jail and released on Jan. 13 with orders to complete 30 days of work release and 300 hours of community service.
Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg and Superior Court Judge-elect said on Thursday that she had not heard about Danny Anderson testing positive for the virus and could not comment on it, but she didn’t believe concerns about the virus justified his previous requests for release on bail.
“It’s certainly unfortunate, but I would say that every incarcerated person and every person in our community should be concerned (about the virus),” she said. “At the same time, I don’t think every inmate should be released because of COVID-19.”
Diane Anderson appeared in court on Friday to request that her work release and community service be converted into house arrest due to health issues and concerns about contracting the virus, according to Krieg.
Krieg said that Judge Kevin Seibert denied the request, but converted the 30 days of work release into an additional 300 hours of community service for a total of 600 and added 30 days of house arrest.
“I think she should do at least community service,” Krieg said. “Everybody’s sort of on house arrest right now, so I don’t think house arrest is a big sacrifice and the whole point is to give back to your community.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 768-5175.