Four women reached a settlement of $US130,000 Monday following a lawsuit against the Santa Rita Jail in California for their treatment while in custody in a “small victory” toward creating policy changes for women detained in the jail.
The plaintiffs – Anne Weills, Tova Fry, Alyssa Eisenberg and Mollie Costello – were detained in the Santa Rita Jail on February 13, 2014 after being arrested on misdemeanor charges during a demonstration against police killings, demanding that State Attorney General Kamala Harris prosecute killer cops.
Speaking to teleSUR, Tova Fry explained how she was one of eight people arrested that day after refusing to leave the Harris State Building where the protest was being held.
Initially arrested by the California Highway Patrol, they were then transferred to the Oakland Police Department, placed in a van without seatbelts and sent to the Santa Rita Jail because the nearest jail could not adequately hold women detainees, they were told.
The four women were then told to strip down to their bras. When they refused, the prison staff said “you have no rights, you're in jail,” Fry recalled.
The women were then placed in cells with about 16 to 17 other prisoners in unsanitary conditions. “There were feces on the floor, with blood and used menstrual pads in the room,” Fry told teleSUR.
Toilets were overflowing and she noticed that other prisoners were denied basic needs such as clothing and personal hygiene products.
Two of the women were held in isolation cells and were denied access to the toilet for hours. The women were held in the jail for approximately 14 hours.
In a press statement, the plaintiffs said they filed the suit “to be a voice for other women and demand they be treated with respect and human dignity.” It also noted that all of the women in those cells were "presumed innocent."
Fry explained that as it was likely that the group would return to the jail because of their commitment to protesting, so that it “gave us standing to file suit.”
She explained that it helped to “expose what a mess the Oakland Police Department is” and added that even more than two years after the incident, there had been very little progress related to charging police officers for the killing of Black and brown people.
Fry stressed that the Santa Rita Jail case is “not just a local problem,” and that people have to fight for better conditions for those brought into custody, particularly women and those with mental health issues.
In conclusion, Fry said of the overall movement against police killings, “It helps to keep pressure on police so that they can't keep killing with impunity because people are watching.”