Alameda Co. settles suit by women who faced dirty jail conditions
ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. (BCN) - Alameda County officials have agreed to a $130,000 settlement for four women who sued the county for the unsanitary conditions they encountered at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in 2014 after they were arrested at a protest in Oakland.
The four women described the settlement of their federal civil rights suit as "a small victory" in achieving policy changes at the jail, reducing the sexual harassment of women arrestees and improving the conditions under which they are held.
Plaintiffs Anne Weills, Tova Fry, Alyssa Eisenberg, and Mollie Costello were taken to Santa Rita after they were arrested for civil disobedience at the state building in downtown Oakland on February 13, 2014.
They were part of a larger group demanding that California Attorney General Kamala Harris prosecute police officers who've killed suspects, particularly Oakland Officer Miguel Masso, who killed 18-year-old
Alan Blueford on May 6, 2012.
The women say that when they were taken to Santa Rita they were taken into a public hallway and told to strip to their bras.
They declined to do so and one of them was forced to walk around in that state in front of male guards and prisoners, according to attorney Yolanda Huang, who filed the suit on behalf of the women.
Two of the women were then locked in isolation cells and denied access to a toilet for hours, Huang said.
The women were then held with other women in filthy jail cells in which toilets were overflowing, there weren't any menstrual pads for women who needed them and there weren't garbage containers, which meant that used menstrual pads sat on top of leftover food, according to Huang.
The settlement calls for a number of policy changes, including an acknowledgement by jail officials that women who are searched are entitled to privacy and the installation of screening curtains for that purpose.
It also calls for a 16-hour training program for deputies who are assigned to the unit where new arrestees are taken and for deputies to check on arrestees.
In addition, it clarifies that deputies conducting a search can't grasp or knead an arrestee's body and requires that garbage bags be installed in all cells holding women arrestees, that women arrestees be promptly provided with menstrual pads and that cells will be cleaned of garbage at least once every two hours.
A portion of the $130,000 settlement will be used to continue to work toward insuring the continued improvement of conditions at Santa Rita Jail, including publicizing these new policy changes so women know.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said his department previously implemented the policy changes outlined in the settlement, as it is training deputies who work in the inmate intake unit and is keeping logs on when cells are cleaned and garbage is taken out.
Kelly said, "We have one of the cleanest jail facilities and our goal is to make sure it is sanitary and as clean as possible for all inmates."
However, Kelly said Santa Rita sometimes gets overwhelmed when there are mass arrests during protests and said that might have been the situation when the four women were arrested and brought to the jail.