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Jail’s culture of abuse hurts all people

“Twist her wrist until she shuts up and stops crying.” This was an order given by Sgt. Eric Allen, the vice president of the Metropolitan Detention Center employee’s union, in a brutal and nonsensical effort to make inmate Susie Chavez be quiet.

Last week the Journal published a 45 minute video of the incident on its website, and I encourage members of our community to take the time to watch it. It is a striking example of the cultural problems that exist inside our state’s largest jail, and it confirms what many people in the system have been saying for years: the jail has a flawed and unconstitutional use of force policy and it is costing us dearly.

Years of litigation have plagued MDC. As a result, the jail has reduced its population and invested enormous amounts of money in medical facilities and psychiatric care.

Yet all this investment is wasted if inmates who enter the jail are later released having been brutalized or traumatized.

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According to the Journal, Chavez was arrested for attempting to steal a lollipop and a phone charger worth $15. The jail video indicates she was being disciplined for having magazine pictures on her wall. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize if you physically abuse inmates like Chavez, you are going to create a larger problem for the community in the long run.

The next time law enforcement interact with Chavez they will likely encounter someone psychiatrically worse than they encountered before. This is a self inflicted problem our society can ill afford.

Also, the cost on staff cannot be overlooked. In watching this video it becomes clear this culture of unnecessary force is tolerated by almost everyone working there, including the medical and mental health staff. Despite being taken to a modern medical unit, the abuse of Chavez continued unabated.

Only one person, (an unidentified woman with blond hair), had enough humanity to try and comfort Chavez, who was supposedly brought to the unit for medical care. She is seen trying to wipe the mace ridden hair out of Chavez’s eyes, something she couldn’t do for herself due to the fact she was in leg, hand and belly chains. Yet the unidentified woman appears worried her actions would annoy the sergeant in control.

When staff repeatedly witness the degrading treatment of inmates it effects their own mental health. Studies have shown prison guards suffer from increased risks of suicide and their families suffer higher than normal rates of domestic violence.

Looking at this video you can see why it is difficult to hire and retain qualified staff and medical professionals to work in MDC.

The culture Allen and others like him promote in this jail is corrosive to everyone who works there. What is even more disturbing are the reports he was actually in charge of “use of force” training at the time. It is therefore unsurprising that MDC has staffing problems and relies on enormous overtime bills to keep the facility going.

This video is actually an opportunity for our community. It should be mandatory watching for how not to run a jail.

Sgt. Allen and his staff have lost touch with humanity. He instructed his officers to escalate the situation rather than diffuse it. He repetitively used a spit mask to stop Chavez from yelling, but doing this to a woman who was vomiting from the effects of mace, having been tasered twice just minutes before, is a dangerous and outrageous thing to do.

Yet union President Stephen Perkins is quoted in the Journal as endorsing the actions of Allen, claiming he did nothing wrong.

After watching this video I think most people will agree the jail employees’ union needs a different leader.

A new philosophy is needed, otherwise MDC will continue to drain resources from our county budget while making our crime problems that much worse.


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