Department of Corrections weighs in on 'riot'
An Oregon Department of Corrections spokeswoman says conditions at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution that led 200 men to leave their housing units in protest were not as bad as inmates have told their loved ones that they were.
Last week, around 1,000 female inmates from Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville were transferred to the medium-facility prison at Deer Ridge due to fire. The 974 Deer Ridge inmates were moved to the minimum-security facility at the prison, which had been closed since 2016.
The mother of an inmate from Deer Ridge and the fiance of an inmate from Coffee Creek described cells without mattresses, filth and more.
DOC spokeswoman Sharon Ball provided DOC's perspective on some of the claims and denied others outright.
What isn't in dispute is that 200 men protested the conditions at about 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11, and all but 12 were back in their housing units by 2 a.m. The department's Crisis Negotiation Team was called in, and no force was used. No one needed medical treatment.
"The remaining 12 (adults in custody) were placed in special housing and transferred to another institution," according to the DOC.
While inmates at Deer Ridge are considered minimum security, four years ago they were moved to the medium-security facility at the prison, and the minimum-security building was shuttered.
Because the Coffee Creek inmates were of multiple custody levels, they were moved to the medium-security building, and the Deer Ridge inmates were moved back to the minimum-security building.
"The welfare of our (adults in custody) and our staff are our No. 1 priority," Ball said. "As resources become available, they are immediately deployed to assist with the needs of our combined institution communities. Our combined CCCF/DRCI community more than doubled in size within a 24-hour period, and we have effectively met the challenges that has provided with flexibility and creativity."
Deer Ridge inmate's perspective
Around midnight Friday, Sharla Brimmer got a phone call from her son, Adam Shader, who is an inmate at Deer Ridge.
Shader's version of events differs significantly from DOC's.
Brimmer said Deer Ridge inmates had arrived at the old facility Thursday to find it infested with mice and black mold and all the bunks removed.
Deer Ridge inmates tolerated the smoke and poor ventilation until Friday night, when the smoke alarms wouldn't turn off, Brimmer said. A group of inmates kicked open their cell doors and gathered outside in the recreation yard.
Shader called his mom from the yard's public phone. He told her the inmates were rioting and to get help. She could hear smoke alarms wailing in the background.
"They couldn't breathe," Brimmer said. "It was either take on the guards or kick the doors down."
Brimmer worked for years in corrections and formerly oversaw the Warm Springs jail.
"The virus is bad enough, but to have to go to a place where mice have been living for four years," she said. "That's not a way to live — I don't care what they did."
"The DRCI minimum institution was thoroughly cleaned prior to housing (adults in custody) there," Ball said, adding that there was no concern about mouse feces because they weren't present.
While alarms were going off, Ball said they weren't smoke alarms.
"During the heavy smoke from the wildfires, the units were experiencing smoke in the buildings, as were all buildings in our two facilities," she said. "When the (adults in custody) saw the smoke, they pulled the fire alarms."
As far as mattresses go, they were moved from one facility to another on flatbed trucks, Ball said. "During this time, there was a brief time that the bunks in the medium institution were without mattresses ..."
To deal with the smoke, Ball said, "We are keeping the facility doors closed as much as possible, changing the filters on our swamp coolers and, due to the air quality conditions being experienced outdoors, we are limiting any outside movement to include canceling all yard activities."
In a statement DOC released Saturday, Sept. 12, DOC said, "The protesting (adults in custody) demanded changes to emergency operations, citing the poor air quality from the wildfires, temporary lack of access to phones, and other disruptions caused by the CCCF evacuation."
Over the weekend, the male inmates at the minimum facility didn't have access to traditional phones because the facility hadn't been in use.
"DOC employees had been working to provide the men in the minimum facility with phone calls via employee work phones," the statement read. Plans were in place to install 10 new phones, as well.
The Coffee Creek inmates already had access to phones, video calls and tablets because the medium facility was still set up.
Coffee Creek transfer
Alfonso Mendez, a California resident whose fiancee is an inmate at Coffee Creek, said that during the transfer, the women were on buses for eight hours without a restroom break, and some inmates couldn't hold their urine.
Ball said most of what Mendez described was inaccurate, but one inmate did urinate herself on a bus.
"When they first arrived, they did not eat for over 30 hours, and some of the inmates are not getting their medication in a timely manner," Mendez said.
"Pretty much the first day, they didn't have mattresses there, blankets," he said. "I don't think there's anything that can justify that."
It took three hours to get from Coffee Creek to Deer Ridge, Ball said.
"Since each group traveled as a caravan, those loaded on the buses first at CCCF had to wait until the last bus was loaded before actual departure could take place," she said. "When arriving at DRCI, the (adults in custody) were processed into the institution bus by bus. The total time this transition took for any one caravan of buses was approximately five to six hours. Upon arrival at the institution, porta-potties and institution toilets were made immediately available, as was fresh drinking water."
Ball said inmates ate before they left Coffee Creek. Those in the first group of buses were fed when they got to DRCI. Those in the other groups were given a sack lunch before they left, she said. The inmates at Deer Ridge ate lunch at the regular time on Thursday, Sept. 10. Supper was delayed, she said, and "they ate again before they slept" that night.
She said all inmates received three meals each day.
As for mattresses, Ball said, Coffee Creek's mattresses were brought by truck after the inmates left the facility. Then they were reissued to the inmates.
Garrett Andrews of the Oregon Capitol Bureau contributed to this story.
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