This is the shocking moment eight Central American asylum seekers on hunger strike were beaten by prison guards at a private detention center in California almost three years ago.
Surveillance video recently acquired by NPR showed the migrants sitting next to each other on two dining tables the morning of June 12, 2017. According to court documents, the guards at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, California, had ordered the men to return to their beds but they refused to do so.
One of the men then passed a four-page letter that included a list of complaints and requested to meet with a supervisor or an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to a lawsuit document filed at a federal court in Riverside, California, on August 2019 – and settled last month for an undisclosed monetary sum – against two correction officers and the Florida-based GEO Group, a for-profit company that oversees the jail, the migrants complained ‘of the inhumane conditions they were being subjected to.’
The migrants protested the discriminatory treatment they faced from the guards, the lack of access to clean water, high bail fees and that all of the information that was relayed to the Spanish-speaking hunger strikers was in English.
Despite being told to go back to their areas, the migrants remained together and formed a human chain by locking their arms together.
Jane Díaz and Giovanni Campos, the two jail guards mentioned in the lawsuit, pepper sprayed the men ‘at least three times’ before several other officers dragged them away from the area.
Omar Arnoldo Rivera Martinez, of El Salvador, was left with a broken nose and tooth when his face was slammed against a wall. Salvadoran migrant Isaac Antonio Lopez Castillo injured his face and suffered a bloody lip when he was tossed against a wall.
Fellow Salvadoran nationals Vladimir Cortez Diaz [right hip], Josue Mateo Lemus Campos, Julio Cesar Barahona Cornejo and Luis Pena Garcia [head]all suffered injuries from being thrown towards a wall.
Alexander Antonio Burgos Mejia, of Honduras, was left with a head injury when the prison guards also was slammed against a wall.
They were all taken to a courtyard and left there for at least 30 minutes before they were placed in isolation in a holding cell. An ICE agent later arrived and checked on their well-being and told the prison guards to ‘loosen’ the handcuffs.
Five of the migrants complained that they were forced to shower under hot water to remove the effects of the pepper spray despite being handcuffed 90 minutes after being visited by the ICE officer.
The migrants were forced to remain in their soaked uniforms for another hour before they were given a change of clothes.
The lawsuit also mentioned that the detainees were placed in isolation for 10 days and spent all but one hour outside their cells.
The hunger strike ended before the 72-hour mark after ICE agents threatened the men that they would inform immigration judges of their tactics.
Díaz supported the prison guards’ response because ‘they were assaulting our staff.’
‘If they refuse to go to count, if they refuse verbal commands, and they’re disrupting our dorm. … This is why they got sprayed,’ Díaz mentioned while being deposed in May 2019.
Barahona Cornejo countered Díaz’s claims by saying they were just seeking to have their grievances heard by the immigration officials.
‘We just wanted to speak and we wanted to be heard,’ Barahona Cornejo said. ‘At no time did I raise my hands to try to hit them or anything.’
Campos labeled the incident ‘a rebellion’ and said that the migrants’ actions led other detainees to scream and escalate the situation.
Díaz was dismissed in 2019 for attempting to employ ‘chemical agents on a detainee in violation of GEO policy.’
Cortez Diaz was granted asylum while Lopez Castillo’s and another migrant’s petitions were denied. The other cases for the other five migrants are still awaiting a final decision.