Eight inmates of the San Bernardino County Jail, assisted by lawyers of the American Civil Liberties Union, sued in U.S. District Court here Monday to force relief from jail overcrowding and alleged mistreatment of prisoners.
Spokesmen for the San Bernardino County sheriff's office declined to comment on the legal complaint, which they said they had not yet seen. But they did acknowledge that the inmate population is running at about 1,200, almost twice the jail's designed capacity of 664.
"They're correct on that point," said Jail Commander Blake Brenkerhoff. "We are overcrowded, definitely," said Deputy Chief Jerome Ringhofer.
Ringhofer also confirmed another allegation of the lawsuit, which is that there are not enough beds and that some inmates must sleep on the floor.
San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell was unavailable for comment.
The complaint includes allegations of rushed meals, little outdoor exercise, long periods spent in overcrowded holding cells, infrequent haircuts and an often corrupt system of cell management by inmate trusties.
"Upon entering jail housing units, inmates are forced to sleep on the floor," said the 12-page complaint. "After approximately one to three weeks an inmate may receive a mattress, if that inmate has the necessary funds or cigarettes to pay 'rent' to inmate tier tenders who manage the housing units.
"Many inmates receive a bed and mattress only after being in the jail for more than three weeks, some spend their entire confinement sleeping on the floor," it added.
Listing of Complaints
Other allegations in the complaint:
- "It is the practice at the jail not to provide regular provisions for clean undergarments, jump suits, towels and blankets. Inmates go weeks without clean clothing.
- "Toilet paper is not available as needed.
- "Inmates are not allowed 15 minutes to eat meals, often being forced to eat in five minutes or less. . . . 'Slow tables' are not provided for elderly and handicapped inmates.
- "Visiting is restricted to once per week during hours when visitors are often not available. Pregnant women, the elderly, and handicapped visitors are denied chairs during visits, as are all inmates.
- "Pregnant inmates receive inadequate pregnancy-related treatment, and are denied extra food.
- "Female inmates are not allowed visits from their children and other relatives on the same basis as male inmates."
In a series of individual declarations accompanying the complaint, some inmates made other detailed claims about jail conditions.
For instance, inmate John M. Kachadorian, who has been in the jail for four months, declared:
"I am in a dorm meant for 60 prisoners. There are about 150 prisoners in my dorm, most on double bunks, but at least 10 sleeping on the floor. I have not received clean clothing for almost three weeks. . . . The jail . . . has not provided me with a haircut in the last four months."
Comments of Inmates
Inmate Dan Inman, in the jail since March 18, declared:
"I had (to) sleep on (a) table for the first two nights. Other people had to sleep under the bunks, on mats or the bare floor. We get five minutes to eat our meals."
Inmate Robert V. Poutre, in jail since Feb. 10, declared:
"I've had outdoor exercise once a week for one hour, when I get it. I got it today for the first time in two weeks."
Inmate Casey John Simon, in jail since March 3, declared:
"Over the weekend it becomes so crowded that there is not enough space on the floor for the inmates to sleep, some without mattresses. I get five minutes to eat my meals. I got one hour of outdoor exercise yesterday, the first time in three weeks."
Long Delays Cited
A hearing on the plaintiffs' demands for injunctive relief was set for June 29, but ACLU attorney Richard Herman said that the record in similar suits filed in Los Angeles and Orange counties does not suggest that action will be quick. Herman noted that both the Los Angeles County and Orange County cases were filed a decade ago and are still in litigation.
The lawsuit requests the federal court to issue an injunction ordering, among other things, that the defendants, including Tidwell, Brenkerhoff and the five San Bernardino County supervisors, provide a bed, a mattress and a blanket for each inmate.
The suit also asks the court to prohibit retaliation against any inmate for the declarations they have made in the suit.
Asked if he would permit a Times reporter to take a tour of the facility, Jail Commander Brenkerhoff responded, "Not at this time."