Occupy Oakland Activists Report Inhumane Conditions In Santa Rita, Glenn Dyer Jails
WASHINGTON -- Alyssa Eisenberg just wanted her multiple sclerosis medication that she uses to allay fatigue and help her concentrate.
A member of Occupy Oakland, she had been caught up in last Saturday's police kettling and transferred to the Santa Rita jail. Police refused to let her keep her meds, which she takes a few times a day, she said. Once inside, a guard dismissed her distress, she said, telling her, "It doesn't look like you're having a medical emergency."
Eisenberg, 44, who claims she was arrested without warning, spent 18 hours in the Santa Rita jail. Before her release, the guards told her she could get access to her medication only if a nurse observed her for a few hours, she said, adding that they implied that if she took them up on the offer, her release would be delayed a day.
"It was so frustrating trying to understand what was going on," said Eisenberg, who became disoriented during what had already been a cramped, chaotic ordeal. "That's the part that stuck with me," she told The Huffington Post. "That's because they didn't give me my medicine."
In the wake of last Saturday's police actions, Occupy Oakland and city officials are going through the now familiar routine of all sides expressing outrage. But this time, the investigations won't end with tracing the last tear gas canister fired and last activist led away in plastic cuffs. The controversy extends to what occurred inside both the Santa Rita jail and the Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility after Saturday's arrests. Activists like Eisenberg allege a range of misconduct on the part of jail personnel, from denial of critical treatment to inhumane conditions.
None of the protesters interviewed by Huff Post were part of the unruly events that took place in Oakland that night, including a flag-burning and vandalism to city hall, they said.
Dan Siegel, Mayor Jean Quan's former adviser who quit her administration over her handling of Occupy Oakland's eviction in October, said incarcerating the activists violated state law. "What is outrageous is that ... people were jailed all weekend instead of cited and released as required by California law," he wrote in an email to HuffPost.
Some activists were charged with burglary for trying to escape the mass arrest by running inside the nearby YMCA building, Siegel said. "Burglars generally enter to commit theft," he wrote. "At most, they trespassed. People say they were invited in, so there was no offense at all."
Rachel Lederman, an Oakland civil rights attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, told HuffPost she's received reports that some of the activists had been cuffed and left on the police buses for as long as six hours without access to a bathroom. One woman, she said, reported nerve damage in her hand.
Once inside, the activists claimed to have been crammed into shower rooms with no beds, no blankets, no heat and not a single chair, Lederman said.
Quan's office deferred a request for comment to the Oakland Police Department. The department did not answer the request.
Sgt. J.D. Nelson, the spokesperson for the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, which oversees the Santa Rita and Dyer facilities, did admit to HuffPost that the jail cells were crowded and some services might have been slowed. Santa Rita took in more than 250 protesters, while Dyer received 110.
The arrestees were not denied care, Nelson said. "Everybody that comes in sees a medical staff," he explained. "Our job and our issue is that people come in and make all kinds of claims. We have to verify those claims before handing out medication. You can't just take everything at face value."
If conditions were tough at Santa Rita, Nelson said, it was because police decided to divert more arrestees to that facility after Occupy activists attempted to block the entrance to Dyer.
Sean Keaveny, 32, told HuffPost the sign in his cell listed capacity at seven inmates. As many as 20 were crammed inside, the water fountain did not work and the cell went without toilet paper for as long as 12 hours, he said.
The guards were constantly moving people in and out of cells, one of which contained at least 50 activists, Keaveny said. There was no toilet paper and the only water they had access to was scalding, he said. "We requested water for hours and hours before we gave up."
"I saw a gentleman with HIV who was asking again and again for his HIV medications," Keaveny said. Every time a guard would walk by, the man would ask for his meds; eventually, Keaveny and others joined in, he said. At one point, they began kicking against a door to get the guards' attention, Keaveny said, adding that the man never got his HIV meds.
Noah Zimmerman, 31, remembered hearing activists chanting for some assistance for the activist with HIV. Michael, 21, who did not want his full name used, remembers the HIV-positive man asking for his meds as well.
Sgt. Nelson did not recall a specific issue with an activist who has HIV. "Just because somebody comes in and says they need HIV meds, we're not just going to start handing out HIV meds," he said.
Salon reported that there may have been one other HIV-positive activist who was denied medication.
Michael told HuffPost that at one point, women nearby began chanting for a medic since a protester had gone into a diabetic seizure after not getting enough food. "They were screaming for a medic, going 'medic! medic! medic!' and banging on the door," he said. "That happened many times."
Activist women demanded sanitary napkins for an inmate who had her period, Keaveny recalled. "They were singing the entire time, chanting, banging," he said. "They slammed and banged and demanded tampons for hours. It took hours for them to get a roll of toilet paper."
Keaveny was incarcerated until Wednesday at 5 a.m. He claimed that he never had access to a lawyer, had his Miranda rights read, or was given a prisoner ID. "What we endured in Santa Rita is suffered every day by millions of inmates in the United States prison system."
Activists said they endured similar conditions at Dyer. Courtney Wentz, 31, a preschool teacher who served as a medic on the march before being snared in the mass arrest, said she got placed in a 10-foot-by-10-foot holding cell with more than 20 other inmates. During one inmate count, a guard went around and threw out all the food they had just been given, Wentz said.
Matt Smaldone, 37, said he was placed in a shower room for seven hours. "One guy had a broken wrist," he said. "He kept asking for assistance. He didn't get looked at until 8 a.m. They gave him like wrap with an ice pack." Smaldone said others with injuries were placed in isolation.