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Los Angeles

Vegan Inmate Who Refused Meals Is Given Home Arrest

Jail: Vegetarian alleges mistreatment. Officials say only that she qualified for switch.

June 07, 2002|LAURA LOH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 26-year-old vegan who refused to eat jail meals while incarcerated for her participation in a May Day clash with Long Beach police last year has been released to home arrest.

Sarah Roberts of Los Angeles said she subsisted mostly on fruit and lettuce during her 10-day stay in the mental ward of Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles and was "skeletal" by the time jail officials released her May 31.

Roberts, a model and aspiring actress, said she believes jail officials let her go because they did not want to deal with her dietary needs. Sheriff's officials said only that Roberts, who had been sentenced to six months in jail, had qualified for release under a home-arrest program that she had applied for.

Roberts said she told Long Beach Superior Court Judge Bradford Andrews at her sentencing last month that she would have trouble serving a jail term because of her stance against eating meat and animal byproducts, such as milk and cheese.

"He suggested I stop eating vegan," Roberts said. "I explained to him that ... to me, animals aren't food. They're dead bodies. My ethics command me not to eat them."

Roberts said she was vocal in jail about her dietary needs, but was served bologna sandwiches and other meat products, as well as cookies and fruit.

She said she eventually got peanut butter, iceberg lettuce and, occasionally, white rice to supplement her fruit diet, but jail staff also continued to give her milk or oatmeal with butter.

"I couldn't tell whether they were trying to torture me or if they just couldn't grasp the concept" of veganism, Roberts said.

Sheriff's Lt. Alma Espinoza, a watch commander at the jail, said efforts were made to accommodate Roberts, who was housed in the mental ward because of depression.

"We just got a general understanding about what she could or couldn't eat, and we went from there," Espinoza said, adding that the jail serves special meals to inmates with health problems and a small number of nonvegan vegetarians.

Roberts was convicted by a jury May 21 of unlawful assembly and wearing a mask while in commission of a public offense, her lawyer said.

She maintains she was merely a spectator at the demonstration in Long Beach and put on a ski mask to protect her face from police tear gas.

More than 63 people pleaded guilty or were convicted of charges stemming from the incident.

Roberts said she is considering suing the Sheriff's Department, which runs the jail.

"I definitely don't want this to happen to someone else," she said.

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