[Pnews] Deportation chosen over Richmond jail; complaints under investigation
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
“It’s unusual for prison cells in this day and age not to have toilets,”
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
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
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
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
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