[Pnews] Deportation chosen over Richmond jail; complaints under investigation

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Nov 2 11:47:35 EDT 2017


  Deportation chosen over Richmond jail; complaints under investigation

By Otis R. Taylor Jr. - November 2, 2017

Dianny Patricia Menendez begged to be deported.

In early October, the 38-year-old undocumented immigrant told 
immigration Judge Joseph Park in San Francisco that she could no longer 
tolerate the conditions at the jail in Contra Costa County where U.S. 
Immigration and Customs Enforcement was detaining her. The story she and 
other detainees, their lawyers and jail monitors told me is one that 
jail officials found hard to believe — yet said they would investigate.

Menendez explained to me, over two phone calls from the West County 
Detention Facility in Richmond, why she didn’t fight deportation to her 
native Honduras, far from her children and the house she owns in Fontana 
(San Bernardino County).

The jail cells, she said, have no toilets, and when inmates need to use 
the bathroom, they must wait for jail staffers to let them out of their 
cells. Sometimes, Menendez said, inmates are locked up for 23 hours 
before they can leave their cells, which hold one or two inmates. She 
described hearing the sound of other distressed female inmates, 
screaming and pounding on their cell doors.

Their choice, she and others said, is humiliating: urinating and 
defecating in their clothes or in plastic bags in their cells, which 
some inmates place into trash cans they squat over.

Do any other detainees live this way?

“All of them,” Menendez told me.

On Tuesday, I got a rare tour of the West County Detention Facility — 
and even rarer access to some of the female ICE detainees there. It’s 
true — the jail cells have no toilets.

Each cluster of cells has a restroom nearby in a secured area that 
inmates can access by opening their cell door. Here’s where the truth 
gets murky: The women I met said their doors are often locked and they 
cannot get out. Their jailers say the women are rarely locked in and 
have access to the bathroom most of the time.

But after hearing about the allegations this week, Contra Costa County 
sheriff’s officials, who contract with ICE to hold immigration 
detainees, said they will investigate.

The women I met spoke of having to relieve themselves in red 
biodegradable plastic bags, the kind given to vomiting inmates going 
through drug withdrawal.

Karina Paez, who’s from Tijuana, told me her roommate defecated in 
clothing soon after they arrived about a month ago.

“Later on, somebody told us that we were supposed to scream ‘red bag’ 
out the window,” Paez said, referring to the biodegradable bags. “I 
didn’t know that. I just arrived here, and she was new, too.”

Paez, 36, was arrested two years ago in Missouri for possession of 
heroin with intent to distribute. She said she’s ready to leave the U.S. 
for good, even if it means her life will be in danger because she 
testified against drug traffickers.

“I can’t do this,” she said, choking back tears. “I really can’t be in 
my room 23 hours a day. I’m going crazy.”

Dianny Patricia Menendez got her wish to be deported to her native...

In the phone interview, Menendez told me that jail staffers frequently 
cancel the hour of daily “free time,” when inmates can bathe, call 
family and friends, and clean their cells. There were times, she said, 
when she had to wait days to shower.

“I just don’t want to be here detained anymore,” Menendez said. “I don’t 
feel good physically. It’s everything. The terrible food, being enclosed.”

Rodrigo Torres, a volunteer with Community Initiatives for Visiting 
Immigrants in Confinement, a group that monitors jails where immigrants 
are detained, has repeatedly heard these complaints about West County.

“A lot of times they’re just not allowed out of their rooms,” Torres 
said. “So during those times, they’re not allowed even to go to the 
bathroom and they’re told to use the bio bags.”

An immigration lawyer for one of the women I met also said he’d heard 
from several inmates that they’re locked in their cells for more than 20 

“It’s not something isolated,” said the attorney, Joseph LaCome. “It’s 
not just the women that I’ve heard complaints from. It’s also male 
clients that I have who are in the detention center, too.”

The West County Detention Facility is a minimum security jail off Giant 
Highway in Richmond near Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, a regional 
park. It opened in 1991, but it’s not a traditional jail where inmates 
are locked behind steel bars like seen on an episode of “Law & Order.” 
There are several classes and programs — computer graphics, engraving, 
printmaking and landscaping, to name a few — that are available to 
inmates who are allowed to walk unescorted from their dorms to classes. 
A majority of the cells are “dry rooms” — lacking toilets and sinks. 
Each cellblock has shared restrooms and showers.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office has a $6 million-a-year 
contract with ICE to run the immigration detention center. During my 
tour, 214 ICE detainees were in the jail, 38 of them women. A total of 
more than 800 inmates are housed at the jail.

The sheriff’s officials who gave me the tour said they were surprised by 
the women’s allegations that they were unable to use the restrooms. They 
denied that inmates are locked up for long periods.

My tour was led by Tom Chalk, a sheriff’s captain. We were joined by 
Chris Simmons, another sheriff’s captain; Matthew Schuler, assistant 
sheriff and commander of the custody services bureau; and Marc Andaya, 
commander of the West County Detention Facility. Simmons was adamant 
that detainees aren’t kept on lockdown.

“The only time it’s locked down at all is during count and some staff 
changes during the count times,” Simmons said.

He pointed out women in the doorways of their cells chatting — and 
walking to the bathroom — during what was technically a lockdown period.

“The only time that they’re in their rooms, a lot of them, especially if 
they choose to involve themselves in programs, is in the evening when 
they’re sleeping,” Simmons said. “Even then, the building’s not in lock. 
They can open their door and go to the restroom and come back.”

Simmons and the other jail officials said ICE detainees can drop 
complaints about anything in boxes fastened to wall on the first floor. 
They said only ICE has access to the boxes.

“If there’s any complaints or anything that comes out of that, we have 
no way of interfering with it,” Chalk said. “ICE then notifies us if 
there’s anything, and of course we’ll investigate.”

ICE didn’t respond to my repeated requests for comment.

I asked my sheriff’s tour guides: Why would some women say they were 
kept from using the bathroom?

A guard searches women returning to a residential building at the West 
County Detention Facility in Richmond, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 
2017. Photo: Noah Berger, Special To The Chronicle
Photo: Noah Berger, Special To The Chronicle

A guard searches women returning to a residential building at the West 
County Detention Facility in Richmond, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.

A guard searches women returning to a residential building at the...

The answer came from Chalk: “Detainees, either because they’re confused, 
or they have a grievance against us and want to say things that may be 
inaccurate or untrue — that happens.”

Still, Chalk and the others said they would investigate the complaints.

They won’t be alone in their probe.

The Prison Law Office, a Berkeley nonprofit public interest law firm, 
has been investigating conditions at Contra Costa County jails for more 
than a year, focused on access to medical care. Still, Donald Specter, 
the nonprofit’s executive director, was startled when told of the 
women’s allegations.

“It’s unusual for prison cells in this day and age not to have toilets,” 
Specter said.

John Gioia, a Contra Costa County supervisor, was taken aback by the 

“This is the first I’ve heard about this, and I think it warrants 
further understanding,” Gioia said. “If these allegations are true — I’m 
not saying they are true — it raises serious issues about the way that 
the facility is being operated with respect to these individuals.”

It’s not just the bathroom access that had the women clambering to voice 
their experiences, speaking within earshot of jail officials. Several, 
like Ana Henriquez Nuila, talked about inadequate access to health services.

Nuila, 32, spoke in Spanish and her words were interpreted by fellow 
detainee Nancy Meyer, 40. Nuila said she fell off the top bunk in her 
cell several days ago. Her arm was in a sling. She said she’s asked to 
get an X-ray, but the medical staff has offered only a topical cream and 
aspirin — and a spot on a waiting list.

Another detainee, 29-year-old Adriana Diaz, pulled up her shirt to 
reveal a fist-sized lump near her waistline. It’s growing, and she 
doesn’t know what it is. She said the jail medical staff hasn’t given 
her attention.

The jail officials said inmates have access to the facility’s medical 
staff when they request it.

“The nurse in medical may not give them what they want during the course 
of that conversation,” Simmons said. “That’s when we see some of the 
complaints about medical.”

On the day of my tour, Menendez, the woman who begged a judge to be 
deported to her native Honduras, was getting her wish. She was driven 
from the Richmond jail to San Francisco’s ICE offices and then taken to 
the airport.

Menendez was deported twice before during the 20 years she lived in the 
United States, and her life story is wrapped in tribulation. It includes 
a drug charge, a DUI charge and a trip back to Honduras in 2011 with the 
bodies of her sister and her twin nephews who were slain in a domestic 
violence incident.

Her U.S.-born children, an 18-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, 
are with relatives. She had been trying to return to them in 2016 when 
she was caught entering the U.S. illegally. Because she was a repeat 
offender, she was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, which she 
served in the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin.

In May, she was transferred to the West County Detention Center. And on 
Oct. 11, she begged Judge Park to send her out of the country.

/San Francisco Chronicle columnist Otis R. Taylor Jr. usually appears 
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Email: otaylor at sfchronicle.com 
<mailto:otaylor at sfchronicle.com> Twitter: @otisrtaylorjr 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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