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Disgruntled inmates start two fires at San Juan County jail

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Inmates at the San Juan County Detention Center – where 42% of inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 – set fires and flooded a pod Monday after voicing concerns about the jail’s virus testing protocols.

Authorities said about 35 male inmates were involved, and one inmate was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. A jail administrator was assaulted, though officials did not detail the assault.

“At no time did detainees control any part of the facility,” San Juan County spokesman Devin Neeley said in a news release. “It is important to call this incident a disturbance, rather than a riot.”

Neeley said detainees on Sunday demanded to speak with jail administration to present concerns about not being tested for coronavirus or not receiving test results.

Neeley said the jail is following state Department of Health guidelines for COVID-19 testing, and inmates who had previously tested negative are being retested. As of Monday, 147 of the 345 current inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, Neeley wrote. Inmates who tested positive have been quarantined in five pods. Neeley said the jail is advocating for full facility testing and for better notification of results.

Inmates also raised concerns about receiving only one hot meal per day.

“The reduction of daily hot meals is due to a lack of available detainees to cook the meals,” Neeley wrote. “There are two shifts of 6 to 7 detainees who work in the kitchen to provide meals for the facility. Low population in the facility has forced the temporary change.”

According to the news release:

On Sunday afternoon, inmates demanded to speak with jail administration about their concerns. The “disturbance” continued Monday when inmates refused their sack lunches.

Jail Administrator Daniel Webb tried to talk with the inmates, but Webb was assaulted and a taser was used on an inmate. Neeley didn’t give specifics of the alleged assault, saying it’s still under investigation.

The detainees then broke a fire suppression sprinkler in a bathroom and flooded a pod. They then lit a pile of blankets on fire, causing the Farmington Police Department SWAT team, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and the Farmington Fire Department to be dispatched to the jail. The inmates later started a fire in another pod and broke a bunk bed, which they used to try to break down a fire door.

Officers began removing inmates from both pods one by one, with noncompliant detainees placed on lockdown.

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