STORIES OF POLICE brutality in the King County Jail during WTO week are slowly finding their way from the rumor mill to attorneys' desks. This is due, in part, to some dedicated activists from the UW chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild. On Saturday December 4, second-year UW law student Tara Herivel, 29, organized a group of 15 NLG members to hit the streets and collect stories of people's accounts of jail mistreatment. Armed with a two- page questionnaire and video cameras, Herivel and her colleagues set up tables outside the county jail and took "declarations." Herivel says the stories are chilling: people being dragged around by their hair, shackled and beaten; women pinned down and stripped; point-blank blasts of pepper spray in the eyes; denial of lawyers, phones, food, and medication. Herivel says her group has collected nearly 300 reports of brutality, and she's funneling the accounts to "socially minded attorneys who are poised for action."
The accounts Herivel heard, she says, were backed up by the wounds she saw -- bruised wrists, welts, missing hair. Furthermore, specifics from individual stories jelled with details from other people's stories. Indeed, the stories of lack of access to lawyers and descriptions of verbal and physical assaults by hostile guards -- who felt empowered by the mayor's call for "martial law" -- were consistent during our reporting as well.
The Stranger interviewed several WTO protesters who were held in King County Jail, including 38-year-old Clare Corcoran, who says jail guards smashed her face against the concrete floor, bloodying her nose. "When I hit the concrete, my nose made a crunching sound. I was in shock, and I stopped yelling. There was a pool of blood on the floor," she says. (Harborview records show that Corcoran was admitted on Friday December 3 for face wounds. The prisoner in the cell kitty-corner from Corcoran's, Claire Chasteen, a 22-year-old from Portland, reports that she heard Corcoran's screams, and saw her emerge from her cell with a bloodied face.) We also reviewed videotaped testimony from prisoners like 30-year-old Franchezka Zamora from Los Angeles, who was denied water, food, and access to an attorney for 24 hours, and has bruised hands from mistreatment. King County Interim Jail Director Steve Thompson did not return our phone calls.
The following account (from an interview we conducted) is one of the most disturbing jail stories we heard. The protester/prisoner was afraid to use her name, and is identified here by her inmate number.
At around 3:00 a.m. on Thursday, December 2, King County Jail prisoner 987 thought she was about to be raped. Three female guards had thrown her on the concrete ground of her 10th-floor cell, asked her if she was ready to cooperate, and tore off all her clothes. The 24-year-old prisoner says she was part of a prison solidarity group that six women had formed earlier in the day -- demanding legal representation, refusing to tell the guards their real names, and locking their arms in an attempt to stay together in their cell. Eventually, four guards succeeded in pulling 987 out of the cell early on Thursday morning, strapping her into a wheelchair-like restrainer and carting her upstairs to the "Separated and Classified" section, where they proceeded to violently undress her.
The guards, 987 says, were eerily quiet as they held her, nude, with her legs bent at the knees, pulled up to her buttocks. Her arms were pulled behind her back to her shoulder blades. "I don't know how long I was held down, but it was long enough for me to wonder if they were going to rape me." During the entire episode, the 24-year-old says, the guards did not tell her what they wanted her to do, as she repeated, "I'm non-violent. I want to see my lawyer." Eventually, she was left alone with a pile of blue prison clothes. Shocked, she cried for hours. 987, who lives in Washington, D.C., says she was denied access to her lawyer for 56 hours, and was ultimately released early Sunday morning without charges. She was originally arrested at Westlake Center on Wednesday morning, December 1, for "failing to disperse." During her time in jail, guards told 987's attorneys that she had been violent -- a charge she denies. She's currently seeking legal recourse through the ACLU.
When 987 got her clothes back, she found that her pants had been ripped off so forcefully, her belt loop was torn.
-- Ingrid Polston contributed to this report.