Angel Pacheco tested positive for coronavirus last week. Before he was released from the Yakima County Jail on bail Wednesday, he said he spent a week in an isolation cell with no hot water.
Despite his “continuous” vomit and diarrhea, he said corrections officers denied him a shower and change of clothes for three or four days, saying he could expose other inmates in the showers.
“They allowed me to sit in my own, you know, filth,” Pacheco, hoarse from coughing, said over the phone about an hour and a half after his release. “When I was hospitalized, I was in really bad shape. I would consider myself on the verge of dying.”
Pacheco is one of 83 inmates out of about 400 inmates who had tested positive for the coronavirus at the jail as of Tuesday, and he described conditions in the jail as “gross and unhuman” with “mold growing in the showers – it’s appalling.”
Pacheco, 25 and awaiting trial for charges of drug and firearm possession, said many people might not care if criminals are housed in “unlivable” conditions, but many men in Yakima County Jail are awaiting trial, innocent until proven guilty and facing a “death sentence” due to COVID-19.
But jail administrators deny the claims of Pacheco and other inmates. They say officers are not denying sick men showers and that the jail is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards, though they acknowledge the facility has been affected by the pandemic like other institutions.
Jeremy Welch, chief of the security operations division of Yakima County Department of Corrections, said Yakima County has reduced the jail’s inmate population to 40% capacity through work with local courts, law enforcement and contract jurisdictions, Welch said.
He also said county Department of Corrections professionals are working “diligently to ensure the safety of staff, the public and inmates.”
But Pacheco, who suffers from underlying heart problems including hypertension, said his treatment was inhumane.
Inmate Juan Sandoval, 34, said inmates are short on soap, forced to wear dirty clothes, sleeping next to sick men and he’s seen men with fevers denied Tylenol.
“It feels like a sick ward. All we hear is echoes of men coughing,” said Sandoval, who is in the jail facing charges that include drug possession.
Pacheco said a few days ago his body ached so much he could hardly move and he was delirious, at times unable to speak. He was also coughing, unable to taste or smell and suffering from “extreme chills and sweats.”
“Vomiting, dysentery symptoms, a fever of 105 and my blood pressure was 210, which is on the verge of a stroke,” Pacheco said.
He said he spent three hours in the hospital before being transported back to the jail, where he was placed in the booking area in a padded isolation cell often used for suicidal people. He said everywhere was dirty.
In February, Sandoval said he requested cleaning supplies because the floor, painted blue, was so thick with soap scum and dirt that he could not see the blue beneath. Pacheco said he had never seen the showers in a clean condition.
Welch said inmates have access to mops, cleaning disinfectants, sanitizer and “general cleaning supplies,” while officers bleach showers. He also said officers clean showers daily and sometimes more often.
But current procedures have not prevented the “ripple effect of sickness,” Sandoval said.
Last week, staff gave Tylenol to a man with a fever of 102 and sent him back to his bunk next to men without fevers, Sandoval said. The next day, seven more men woke up sick. By night there were more than a dozen sick men.
At that point, a nurse denied the sick men Tylenol or Gatorade and told them to sign up for “medical,” to be treated by medical staff on their floor, he said. Two days later they had not been brought to medical, Sandoval said.
“The motto in here has become this: ‘Everyone is going to get sick. The more we try to resist the more we all hurt.’ ” Sandoval said.
Sandoval also said his access to soap and toilet paper has been scarce. The travel-sized soaps they get weekly last for two or three showers and inmates are expected to use them for daily hand washing.
At the same time, he said, inmates only get clean clothes once per week, so they have been using their soap bars to “squeeze in” washing underwear midweek. Pacheco also described receiving clean clothes only once per week.
Welch did not answer how often inmates receive bars of soap but said linen exchange is done several times a week and more often if needed.
Sandoval and Pacheco also described rooms with dozens of men given one or two industrial size rolls of toilet paper, which Sandoval said inmates use to wipe their hands, blow their noses, wipe cups out and wipe down tables and tablets.
Pacheco said in general it takes many requests before corrections officers will bring more toilet paper.
Sandoval said some inmates with fevers of 101 to 104 were denied Tylenol. He said correction officers told inmates they would need to buy the fever reducer from the commissary, a store within the jail where inmates can buy goods like toothpaste using money their family members contribute.
One such family member, Nikki Higdon, learned about Pacheco’s and Sandoval’s experiences in a Facebook chat group called “Inmate Lives Matter,” where more than a dozen other family members of Yakima County Jail inmates have said they are desperate to see conditions change.
Higdon’s fiance in the jail has not tested positive for the virus, but she said last week he bunked next to a man with a fever, congestion and “every other symptom,” who told guards he didn’t feel good.
Higdon said jail staff waited to test the sick man until the entire annex was tested and his results were positive for COVID-19. But while he awaited his test and then results, she said the sick man was still symptomatic and stayed in the same bunk bed next to her fiance.
“I have absolutely no trust,” Higdon said, referring to the jail’s care for inmates.
When staff started testing inmates for the virus, Higdon said they found all but about three people in one area, Annex E, tested positive. At the same time, she said all but a few people tested negative in Annex A.
Jail staff moved the handful of negative-testing inmates from Annex E to Annex A, at the same time taking the few positive testing people from Annex A and moved them to Annex E, she said. Welch confirmed this move.
Higdon questioned the move because it brought three people who were frequently exposed to the virus to a relatively untouched annex. She said her fiance had been moved to three annexes since the virus began.