Medical assistant charged with bringing drugs into Sacramento jail, documents say

One of the four people charged with allegedly bringing drugs into the Sacramento County Main Jail was working at the location, new court documents state.

Zareonna Harris, 23, was working as a medical assistant when she was arrested Aug. 29 for bringing drugs into the jail, a court document the District Attorney’s Office filed in Sacramento Superior Court earlier this month states. On Aug. 29, Sheriff’s deputies intercepted Harris as she smuggled in 1.2 grams of meth, about two grams of powder cocaine, a cellphone and escape tools into the downtown jail, the document states.

“Defendant Harris was working as a medical assistant at the jail and was using her employment, security clearance and position of trust to bring controlled substances into the jail for the purpose of sale,” the document states.

Fentanyl was among the drugs Harris brought into the jail, the document states, along with meth, heroin and weed. She admitted to bringing in narcotic drugs on at least four previous occasions and was paid $1,000 to $3,000 for each successful delivery, the document states.

Harris worked on an “on call/per diem” basis for Sacramento-based Avid Healthcare Services, according to an email to The Sacramento Bee from the company.

“Avid HCS has a strong relationship with the county going on 5 plus years; that continues to provide healthcare workers with opportunities for gainful employment as contracted staff in this economy,” the company said in an email. “Working together with county corrections for clearance and placement of staff is a judicious, multi-step process that we continue to iterate as required. One person clearly misusing an opportunity that could have been extended to someone else in a competitive industry is unfortunate.”

The county’s contract with Avid Healthcare Services expires June 30, 2026, county spokeswoman Samantha Mott said

In addition to Harris, Donald Louis Zackery, 24, Tomani Doneisha Zackery, 23, and James Willard Whitfield, 45, were also charged Aug. 29 for allegedly bringing drugs into the downtown jail. The new document does not state whether those three were also staff. They’re being held at the jail without bail and are scheduled for a preliminary hearing Oct. 11.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Amar Gandhi declined comment on the new court document, but said the office is holding a news conference Wednesday morning to share more details.

‘It’s obvious now’

The jail is under scrutiny for an increase in overdose deaths. Three inmates have died at the jail so far this year of suspected drug overdoses — deaths that could have been prevented with adequate monitoring and detoxification, according to a new report by two medical professionals tasked with independently monitoring medical care of Sacramento inmates under a federal settlement.

Unlike homicides and suicides, medical deaths at the jail, including overdoses, typically lack any independent oversight. The San Francisco-based Prison Law Office, the plaintiff for the federal lawsuit, last month wrote a letter to the Sheriff’s Office demanding they start searching jail staff when they enter, the way prisons do — a request the county denied.

“The Sheriff agrees that drugs smuggled into the facility is a serious concern,” Supervising Deputy County Counsel Rick Heyer on Aug. 14 wrote in an email to the organization. “However, there is no evidence that such contraband is being brought into the facilities by (Sheriff’s Office) employees. (The Sheriff’s Office) has investigated the possible sources of these narcotics entering the facilities and has enacted heightened screening protocols in booking and inmate visitation.”

Gandhi declined comment Monday on whether the Sheriff’s Office has since started to screen employees.

Amy Curry has been perplexed about the death of her ex-boyfriend Cody Catanzarite since it happened over two months ago. Due to her own experience of being housed in the jail, she knows the scanner picks up drugs on inmates, even if they are not yet booked, she said.

The jail sent Catanzarite, 37, to the emergency room for a fentanyl overdose shortly after he arrived, a new medical report found. He received an an initial screening when he returned to the jail on July 20 but did not get evaluated by a registered nurse until his secondary screening — more than five hours later. By that time, the report states, his withdrawal symptoms had increased substantially and the nurse put him on a withdrawal regimen. He died 12 hours later from complications of a suspected overdose, the report states.

When Curry learned from a reporter that a jail staff member was charged with bringing in drugs, she said she believes that’s how Catanzarite got the drugs.

“He had to have been getting it from inside,” said Curry, who was herself a jail inmate in 2020. “It’s obvious now. That’s what’s been going on. These people have died because of this negligence.”

Curry said the jail should “absolutely” start screening staff.

“It would save inmates’ lives,” she said.