Detention officers sue CoreCivic over COVID-19 outbreak at Otay Mesa facility

Posted at 10:20 PM, Apr 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 09:08:36-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Two lawsuits have been filed over conditions inside the Otay Mesa ICE detention center during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The lawsuits filed against CoreCivic, the private company that runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center and employs detention officers, was filed by a former and a current employee.

The plaintiffs allege that CoreCivic did not provide gloves or masks to the entire staff and that they prohibited the plaintiff and its other employees from wearing masks in the housing units.

The complaint also states CoreCivic did not provide sanitizer to staff.

The employees, who both say they have underlying health conditions, allege staff told them that if they provided masks to the detention officers, then it would scare the inmates/detainees and they would have to provide them to them as well, which would cause them to go over budget.

10News reach out to CoreCivic for comment, here is the statement in its entirety:

Specifically with reference to the two lawsuits filed yesterday, one of the plaintiffs, Ms. Smith, last worked in the Otay Mesa Detention Center on or about March 16, 2020. And the other plaintiff, Mr. Arnold, is in fact currently still employed at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. He has not resigned his employment. So the allegation that he has been constructively terminated from his employment is confusing at best.

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Otay Mesa Detention Center has taken affirmative and proactive measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, and followed the most current guidance from medical and industry experts on best practices and recommendations for safe operations. Our practices have evolved and changed as the CDC guidance and recommendations have evolved over time and as we learn more about the novel coronavirus.

We’re also working closely with our partners at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), and ICE Health Services Corps (IHSC), which provides the healthcare at the facility, to ensure the health and safety of everyone at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. In addition to the steps we put in place several weeks ago, we’ve updated and expanded our response to COVID-19 at the facility in the following ways:

  • Movement around the facility has been limited, with the exception of court hearings or medical emergencies.
  • Housing pods with positive cases are cohorted (IHSC can provide additional information on this practice)
  • Meals are being served in the housing pods rather than the dining facility
  • Masks have been provided to all staff and detainees in accordance with updated CDC recommendations.

IHSC had already been separating high-medical-risk detainees prior to having any cases at Otay Mesa. At the direction of ICE and with notification to USMS, all social visitation had been suspended effective March 13, 2020, until further notice. We continue to regularly update detainees and staff about positive cases at the facility. Additionally, a number of steps have already been in place at all of our facilities for some time. We have a Coronavirus Medical Action Plan in place at each of our facilities, which we’ve been working on since January. This plan includes:

  • Having medical staff participate in the intake process to identify those who are deemed high-risk of being infected with or contracting COVID-19;
  • Isolating those who are deemed high-risk as needed; and
  • Working with local and state health departments to conduct appropriate testing.

Our plan and practices build on the extensive work we do every day to run clean, healthy and safe facilities.

All of our facilities are actively promoting the following three health habits for inmates, detainees and residents, as well as staff: regular hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette (coughing or sneezing into a sleeve or tissue) and avoiding touching one’s face.

We have asked all of our employees to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases by adhering to the following recommendations:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow the CDC's recommendations for using a facemask.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

All employees are screened upon entering a CoreCivic facility. Procedures are specific to correctional and detention facilities, designed to prevent the introduction and spread of the COVID-19 virus. These steps include answering a screening questionnaire related to symptoms of infection and a safe temperature check.

Staff routinely encourage appropriate social distancing and model that behavior for those in our care. Social distancing is encouraged through regular town hall meetings, posted flyers, information presented over the closed-circuit television system, and the routine instruction of staff all serve to encourage the known effective steps to prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

Consistent with CDC recommendations, face masks have been provided to all staff and detainees. Disposable gloves are readily available for conducting searches and handling property, and staff working at the front lobby screening site wear a face mask, eye protection (goggles or disposable face shield that fully covers the front and sides of the face), gown/coveralls, and disposable gloves.

Cleaning and Disinfecting Practices
In all CoreCivic facilities, staff adhere to the CDC recommendations for cleaning and disinfection during the COVID-19 response. This includes cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, objects and shared equipment that are frequently touched or used by staff members and those entrusted to our care. Our facilities use commercial cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants that are effective against the virus that causes COVID-19, following label instructions to ensure their safe and effective use. We have adequate supplies to support these intensified cleaning and disinfecting practices. Detainees at Otay Mesa have access to cleaning supplies.

We continue to monitor developments and CDC guidance for any modifications to their recommended practices and will modify and update our practices to comply with the most current and best guidance available.

Amanda Gilchrist
Director, Public Affairs