A hunger strike by Orange County jail inmates ended as of 10 p.m. Friday according to Sheriff’s spokesman Ray Grangoff.
“As of 10 p.m. last night we have no inmates on a hunger strike,” Grangoff wrote in a July 28 text message. “The sole remaining individual on strike accepted a meal last night.”
The strike was staggered across 10 days as inmates joined and stopped at different times.
Daisy Ramirez, OC Jail Project coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, said in an email Monday she was told the last hunger striker, Enrique Guerrero, continued to refuse meals until the morning of Saturday, July 28.
Grangoff said Guerrero refused meals from July 22 through around 10 p.m. July 27.
Ramirez said the inmates “temporarily suspended the strike to re-strategize as well as remain healthy for their upcoming court hearings.”
The strike was organized by inmates Josh Waring and Johnny Martinez to protest alleged mistreatment and jailhouse conditions.
Martinez refused meals the longest of the strikers, beginning July 18. According to Grangoff, the department considered him to be on a hunger strike from July 21 until about 4 a.m. July 25. The department considers it a hunger strike when an inmate has refused to eat for 72 hours.
Undersheriff Don Barnes told reporters on July 19 that any assertion the jails were mistreating inmates was “not valid.”
Waring is the son of former Real Housewives of Orange County star Lauri Peterson and is on trial for attempted murder in connection with the shooting injury of a man identified by ABC 7 as Daniel Lopez.
Martinez, the suspected leader of the Orange County Mexican Mafia, is in jail for a 1994 fatal gang-related stabbing in Placentia and is facing charges of attempted murder in connection with the same case.
The 42-year-old Monday was charged with organizing the murder of a man in Placentia and the attempted murder of another man in August while doing time in Salinas Valley State Prison, according to the Orange County Register.
Martinez is “accused of using a contraband cell phone to communicate thousands of times with gang associates both inside of the lockup and out, in a pair of indictments approved by an Orange County Grand Jury,” according to the article.
“The ACLU SoCal remains committed to the fight for justice for all who are incarcerated, regardless of their charges,” said Ramirez in the email when asked how Martinez’ charges could affect the future of OC jail inmates’ protests. “It is imperative that we not delve in conversations of who is deserving of advocacy and who is not.”
She added, “The Sheriff’s Department and DA’s office will attempt to reframe the argument into one of ‘worthiness.’ It is our stance that everyone who is incarcerated must be treated with dignity and respect. Protecting their rights is just as important as protecting yours and mine.”
Ramirez said that since putting their hunger strike “on hold” on July 25, Waring and Martinez were rehoused from isolation, where they had been moved on day four of the strike, back to “regular cells” in Module J at the intake release center.
Ramirez said on July 27, Martinez was moved from the intake release center to the Theo Lacy facility in Orange. Guerrero is back in Module M at the intake release center after spending some time inisolation, she said.
Earlier, Ramirez said she knew of five central jail inmates who began the hunger strike Wednesday, July 18. The number jumped the next day to 150, according to Sheriff’s Department Spokeswoman Carrie Braun and to 200 by Ramirez’ estimate.
Since the start of the protest, the number of inmates refusing meals quickly and sharply dropped.
Braun said after one day, 145 inmates ended their hunger strike, leaving five who were still protesting. By July 22, that number was down to four.
Ramirez said in an email that as of July 27, the ACLU was aware of one inmate, Guerrero, who still was refusing meals in Module M of the central jail intake release center.
She added Martinez, Waring and one other inmate, all housed in Module J of the intake release center, put their hunger strike “on hold” the morning of July 25.
The remaining striker accepted a meal on July 27 after refusing them for 6 days, Grangoff said.
Ramirez said in the email that on July 26, she learned people at the Theo Lacy jail facility in Orange are now considering a hunger strike as well.
“I visited two people and they confirmed that conversations are taking place, however were unable to identify any individuals actively participating,” Ramirez said.
She said Monday she received information that incarcerated people started a hunger strike early last week at Theo Lacy but “we have not confirmed this in person as we do not have the names of any of the participants.”
Braun wrote in a July 24 text message that the Sheriff’s Department had heard of inmates at another facility, without saying which, who were planning a hunger strike. Braun said she did not have a number of how many were expected to participate in that facility.
Grangoff said Monday that inmates at other facilities began refusing meals last week, but the department did not consider it a hunger strike.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “hunger strike” as “refusal (as by a prisoner) to eat enough to sustain life.”
Braun said the Sheriff’s Department considers it a hunger strike once an “inmate has refused meals for 72 hours” and that “there are protocols put in place that start taking effect after 72 hours.”
The protocols, Braun said, are “for the safety and security of the inmate” and are “not punitive measures for participating in a hunger strike.”
Grangoff said none of the inmates participating in the strike required medical attention, but that the medical staff was “proactively watching” them after they had refused meals for over 72 hours.
Grangoff said that while inmates may refuse the provided meals, they have the ability to purchase food through the jail commissary, but only “prior to the 72-hour mark.”
“Just because they’re refusing to take the meals provided doesn’t mean that they also aren’t utilizing their commissary,” Grangoff said. “They still have access to that and aren’t denied access to commissary.”
Once inmates have refused meals for over 72 hours, they no longer have access to food from the commissary, he said.
“As the medical staff is monitoring them, they need to monitor the calories and what they are eating or not eating,” Grangoff said. “(Restricting commissary) is more for medical purposes than anything else.”
Ramirez said the OC Jails Project will remain in contact with people in the jails and will continue to monitor jailhouse conditions.
The ACLU will join families of the inmates at the OC Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, she said, “to continue to call attention to the ongoing issues in the jails and demand independent oversight of the Sheriffs’ Department.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. You can contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @photherecord.
Kassidy Dillon is a Voice of OC intern. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.