Annenberg Radio

Unsanitary jail conditions spark concern for violating constitutional rights.

A man charged with murder waits in Los Angeles County Jail for his trial and hygiene issues challenge constitutional rights.

Tyron Vazquez has been in custody and charged for murder for nearly two and a half years. Vazquez waits for his trial in Los Angeles County Jail, which is one of the largest jail systems in the nation. While he struggles with an underlying condition, clogged showers and overpopulation bring up a possible violation of constitutional rights for people behind bars.

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Tyron Vazquez used to live a normal life. He’s 36 years old and grew up in Belize, before moving to Los Angeles. Vazquez worked at an event planning company. He was part of the crew who helped with flower decorations.

I used to go, I used to get ready. I sometimes cause I used to work in the early early like 2 o’clock in the morning time.

Then, a day after Christmas in 2018 -- a tragedy changed his life forever.

They’re charging me with murder. And I’m facing a life sentence if I do get charged.

Vazquez says he was on his way to his girlfriend’s home after work. He got off the bus at Vernon and Central in South LA. Another man did too and according to the police report, they got into a ‘physical altercation.’ The other man ended up stabbed multiple times. A couple of weeks later Vazquez turned himself in when he found out the other man died. Since then, he’s been in custody at Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles. Now he’s living in a small cell with three other incarcerated people.

That piss water comes all the way to the door. The only reason why is because the pipes get clogged up and when people taking shower like for example when I’m in the shower and the next person beside me sometimes they piss in the showers and that’s unsanitary.

Vazquez is one of the many incarcerated people waiting for his hearing in the Los Angeles County Jail. That’s one of the largest, overpopulated jail systems. The long wait was initially because of postponements on his part to prepare for trial. But then the coronavirus hit the nation... and the justice system slowed down the process even more. While in custody and battling a pandemic, people in jail often have to deal with basic hygiene issues due to overcrowded facilities.

One week we went almost three days without taking a shower. We had to write in grievance hey we need our shower we need our shower, our body odor was very foul. We couldn’t even stand our own body odor.

But the challenge is not only because of overcrowding. L-A County Jail facilities are very old and for people like Vazquez struggling with diabetes, the coronavirus made the conditions hard.

I think the inmates rights are being violated in a sense, by not protecting them from the pandemic, as they should.

Arash Hashemi is Vazquez’s lawyer. Vazquez has been waiting in jail for nearly two and a half years and Hashemi says, he couldn’t believe that Tyron was wearing an old and worn out face-mask during a preliminary hearing.

During this pandemic with this huge population in the jail that they tried to reduce, but they’re all jammed together the least they can do is give them new masks.

But Assistant Sheriff Bruce Chase from the Los Angeles Sheriff Department says — It’s not easy.

Yeah, we have a very large system, so it’s hard to maintain, you know, a perfect system 24 hours a day.

He says they started providing masks to people in jail from early on and that the clogged showers were taken care of immediately along with any other complaints.

So as soon as anything’s brought to our attention, we fix it. We actually increased cleaning crews, in all the housing areas as far back as last March, when we became aware of COVID.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Justice Program, unsanitary conditions are actually violating a constitutional right under the Eighth Amendment: the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. But Vazquez’s concern is more about how to get his life back.

To be honest, I just really just want to, I just want me to just give me back my life. And just like start over from start over from where they took from me. Because I’m a nice, honest, I’m a nice honest guy.

Vazquez had no idea what waited for him in jail. If he had known…

I mean I’d make the victim probably kick my ass. Beat me, beat me, beat me, beat me, beat me, until he can beat me no more. I would have never went for that.

For now, he has to just keep waiting.

I miss everything. I sometimes I just cry cry sometimes. I cry sometimes but I can’t fight it sometimes. I cry sometimes. It’s hurting me sometimes. But I can’t do nothing about it this place is torturing me it’s hell it’s hell to me it’s all hell. I am going to hell right now I’m asking God, I’m praying to God. Let me, take me as it is godforsaken place.

His trial is set for June 1st. That may seem soon... to you and me. For Annenberg Media, I’m Chrissa Loukas.