A federal judge on Wednesday, Feb. 16, signed off on a settlement in which the state will pay $3.5 million to the mother and teenage son of a frightened woman whose pleas to be transferred out of a Chino prison cell were ignored by jailers before the woman’s cellmate beat her to death.
Shaylene Graves, 27, of Jurupa Valley, had six weeks left on the robbery sentence she was serving at the California Institution for Women when she died on June 1, 2016.
As part of the settlement, her mother, Sheri Graves of Murrieta, will prepare a 15-minute video on how jailers could have saved her daughter’s life, and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials will be required to watch it.
“I did not want them to go without being held accountable,” Graves said in an interview on Friday, Feb. 18.
She wants jailers to understand that inmates are human beings and should be treated that way, and not just as numbers.
“That’s a big responsibility. It shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Graves said.
Shaylene Graves was placed in that cell in mid-May 2016. Her cellmate openly threatened to kill her, even doing so in recorded phone calls, said attorney V. James DeSimone, who filed the wrongful-death lawsuit on the family’s behalf. Graves asked to be relocated, but according to the lawsuit, jailers offered her only a spot in solitary confinement.
Graves rejected that offer, fearing it would hurt her prison record and delay her release.
In the state’s response to the lawsuit, its attorneys said Graves never asked to be moved.
“That’s not true at all,” DeSimone said Friday. “I think the indifference is systemic to the prisons.”
On the day Graves died, other inmates heard loud noises coming from her cell, and then silence. Graves was found hanging from a sheet. The family was led to believe that Graves had killed herself.
Sheri Graves said Friday that she was always suspicious of that claim. Her daughter had been making meticulous plans for life after incarceration, including forming a nonprofit organization to help other women make the transition. She showed up to her last visit with her mother having dyed her hair red and wearing matching glasses that had no lenses.
“I’m working on my image so when I get out, I will be relevant,” Shaylene Graves told her mother.
DeSimone sued in May 2017. But it wasn’t until early 2019 — more than two years after Graves’ death — that as DeSimone gathered evidence, the family learned that a state investigation had determined that Graves had been slain. Nobody from the state had told the family the truth.
The cellmate was never prosecuted. DeSimone said he was told that a murder charge would have been too difficult to prove. Mike Ramos, the San Bernardino County District Attorney at the time, said Friday that he couldn’t immediately remember the case.
Dana Simas, a spokesperson for the CDCR, confirmed the amount of the settlement.
“CDCR takes the safety of those in our care very seriously and we work hard to provide a safe and secure environment at all of our institutions. It is our hope this settlement will bring some closure to Ms. Graves’ loved ones,” Simas said Friday.