A hunger strike by 145 Orange County jail inmates ended after one day, but four inmates still are refusing to eat after at least four days, according to Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun.
Daisy Ramirez, coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California’s OC Jails Project, said in a telephone interview Sunday five inmates told her they were still on strike when she visited them Friday, July 20. She did not have an estimate for Sunday’s total.
Ramirez said one inmate told her he believed as many as 50 in his sector were still refusing meals.
Ramirez said she knew of five inmates who began refusing food Wednesday, July 18. The number jumped the next day to 150, according to Braun and to 200 by Ramirez’ estimate. Braun said the number dropped to five on Friday and by Sunday was down to four.
Braun said 159 inmates were “planning” to refuse food on Wednesday but the majority didn’t start until Thursday. She said she didn’t have an exact number for those who stopped eating Wednesday.
The goal, Ramirez said, was to draw public attention to conditions in the jail detailed by the ACLU in a June 2017 report.
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 “after the inmate has refused meals for 72 hours.”
Braun also said in a text message that after 72 hours of refusing meals, inmates will be more closely monitored medically but would not be force fed or medicated without an order from a judge. She said Sunday no judge’s orders had been sought for the remaining strikers.
The hunger strike’s inmate organizers, Josh Waring, 29, and Johnny Martinez, 42, have been placed in separate isolation as of Sunday, Ramirez said.
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 only as Daniel L., according to the Los Angeles Times.
Ramirez said Waring’s girlfriend, Shelby Slezak told her Waring has lost eight pounds since beginning his strike at breakfast Wednesday and has been medically evaluated.
Ramirez said Sunday she didn’t know the reason behind Martinez’ isolation. Martinez 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.
Braun would not confirm over the phone Sunday whether or not Waring and Martinez had been placed in isolation.
The ACLU has not met with the county since the strike began, Ramirez said, and has not heard of any other inmates being evaluated medically.
The hunger strike — and the July 19 ACLU-organized rally by about 35 people outside the central jail in Santa Ana — were intended to draw attention to inmates’ claims of mistreatment in the jails, such as prolonged isolation, lack of access to medical care, excessive use of force and retaliation for trying to file grievances, according to Ramirez.
Undersheriff Don Barnes told a July 19 news conference the grievances of the inmates and ACLU were “not valid.”
“It is not uncommon for the ACLU to make broad-based allegations in their attempt to get access inside custodial facilities that they will use for further manipulation. That seems to be consistent with the ACLU’s actions,” Barnes said.
Ramirez said the inmates’ families will hold a candlelight vigil outside the central jail at 7 p.m. Monday. Dolores Canales, Martinez’ mother and an incarceration reform activist, will attend.
The ACLU’s plan from the beginning was to gather definitive evidence of inmates’ claims of mistreatment before taking any official action, Ramirez said. She said they do not have that definitive evidence yet.
“For the time being, we’re going to continue to monitor (jailhouse) conditions, but if folks are engaging in a peaceful protest and we’re able to definitively claim that they’re being retaliated against for doing so, at that point we may move forward with issuing a demand letter,” Ramirez said.
Legal publisher Nolo defines a demand letter as a version of the facts of a dispute and making an “open gambit” effort for compensation or other action to resolve it.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.
Kassidy Dillon is a Voice of OC Intern. Contact her at email@example.com.