PHYSICAL ABUSE AT THEO LACY
In 2015, we filed a complaint on behalf of 10 men detained at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California. The complaint details the abuse they faced at the facility, including physical assault.
Complaint Date: December 4, 2015
Complaint Result: Our complaint resulted in a federal investigation by DHS’s Office of the Inspector General, where the facility was cited for multiple federal standard violations, mildewed shower stalls, inoperable phones, restrictive housing modules amounting to solitary confinement, lack of proper grievance documentation process, among other things.
Background on Complaint:
We filed a formal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties within the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 10 men detained at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California. The complaint details multiple incidents of physical assault, including five incidents by Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) deputies, retaliatory transfers, and delay or denial of needed medical care at Theo Lacy Facility.
Orange County has received more than $100 million taxpayer dollars from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2010 to detain male and female immigrants and asylum seekers at the Theo Lacy Facility and James Musick Jail.
Immigration detention is legally defined as a civil form of detention; it is not and should never be a form of punishment. The individuals that OCSD holds in ICE custody are intended to be in their protective custody while they proceed through their immigration cases.
Yet, as evidenced by the individuals included in the complaint, OCSD fails to meet the standards outlined in its contract with ICE. More importantly, OCSD and ICE fail to uphold basic civil and human rights. OCSD denies adequate medical care, fails to prevent violence perpetrated by deputies or other people detained at Theo Lacy, and holds people in a form of solitary confinement for months in violation of federal guidelines. The complaint specifically alleges physical abuse by OCSD deputies against 5 men in immigration detention at Theo Lacy, months-long delays to see doctors for chronic conditions and injuries; such inadequate care has resulted in permanent vision loss and other ailments.
The complaint also documents a pattern or practice of transferring people from the low-security James Musick to the high-security Theo Lacy as punishment for speaking out and/or advocating for their rights.
Complainants were 10 people in detention who reported on conditions in Theo Lacy Facility to CIVIC during 2014 and 2015. Five of the men have been released or deported recently and are stating their allegations publicly: Felix Alvarado, Jose Gudiño, Luis A. Chavez, Carlos Hidalgo, and Erwin Amiel Melendez. We protected the identities of the remaining 5 complainants, as they fear reprisal. We also protected the identities of the OCSD deputies who have been accused of misconduct and abuse.
We called for the contract between ICE and Theo Lacy to be immediately terminated and for a federal investigation into OCSD. In addition, 30 retired prosecutors, prominent professors and other legal scholars signed on to a letter asking for a federal investigation of the Orange County district attorney’s office and OCSD, after an Orange County Superior Court judge found that that OCSD deputies and prosecutors unconstitutionally used jailhouse informants to obtain information against defendants who already had lawyers.
“The sheer number and consistency of civil rights complaints at Theo Lacy over the last year point to a mounting crisis that warrants immediate action,” said Christina Fialho, a California attorney and the co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants. “Any legitimate federal inspection process would come to the conclusion that ICE’s contract with Orange County must be terminated.”
“I was ill and ICE would not give me my medical records, and I was not given proper treatment at Theo Lacy,” said Felix Alvarado, who was deported September 1, 2015, to Honduras after spending two years and three month in immigration detention at Theo Lacy. “I am having a difficult time in Honduras, but the medical care here is better than at Theo Lacy.”
“I was locked up 23 hours a day without access to phone and a real connection to the outside. When I would ask for basic necessities, such as a cup of hot water, I was arbitrarily denied,” said Luis Chavez, who has been living and making his life in the United States since 1999. Luis was deported on August 12, 2015, to El Salvador after spending approximately a year and half in immigration detention at Theo Lacy.
Access results from our California Public Record Requests:
(1) OCSD Billing Summary & Breakouts to ICE (2010 – 2015)
(2) Summary of the Number of People Detained in Orange County (2010 – 2015)