Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Today's Episode Of American Justice

Hour after hour, for four full days, Adriana Torres-Flores was locked away and forgotten in 8 1/2-by-9 1/2-foot cell in the Washington County Courthouse, with only a metal table, two benches and a light bulb that never went out. She had nothing to eat or drink. There was no toilet. Thursday passed. Then Friday, Saturday and Sunday - although Torres-Flores had no watch to tell the time. She slept on the floor with her head on a shoe.

She drank her own urine, she said.

Panicked and afraid she would die, Torres-Flores pounded on the steel door with her hands and feet, and yelled. No one heard her. The threat of snow had thinned the courthouse staff Friday.

The building was closed all weekend.

It was Monday morning before the bailiff who had put her in the holding cell, intending to have her taken to jail, opened the door and realized his mistake.

Jarrod Hankins of Elkins, only two months into his job as bailiff, was too devastated Monday to talk about it, his mother said.

"He's a broken man right now,"Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said.

Hankins, who is on administrative leave, became distracted by other duties and forgot about Torres-Flores, the sheriff said Monday. Because the single detention cell is hidden behind a hallway on the fourth floor of the courthouse, and not part of a jail with a staff, there was no one to check on her.

Torres-Flores, 38, of Springdale went to court Thursday for a hearing on a plea agreement related to her December arrest on a charge of selling pirated mu- sic CDs at Pleasant Flea Market in Springdale. But she pleaded innocent.

When Judge William Storey remanded her to custody for violation of a condition of her bail, the bailiff led Torres-Flores to the detention cell.

Defendants are held in the cell in such situations, the sheriff explained. Usually, however, the bailiff notifies the Washington County sheriff 's office to send someone to take the prisoner to jail.

Her attorney, Nathan Lewis of Fayetteville, said he left believing that Torres-Flores would be taken to jail to await an April 1 trial in the case. Police said she is an illegal alien and faces deportation by federal immigration authorities.

After being treated at Washington Regional Medical Center, Torres-Flores was at home Monday evening. Recuperating in a bed in the front room of her tiny Springdale house, she described her ordeal through her 14-year-old daughter, Adriana Torres-Diaz, who is bilingual.

"When she first went there, she thought they were going to see her,"the girl said. "She assumed she was being taken care of."

But hours passed and no one came.

"Like in the afternoon, she noticed that no one came by."

Her mother had not eaten breakfast before court on Thursday, Adriana said. She had no food in her pockets and no water to drink. "She had to use the bathroom on the floor."

"She said she was so thirsty she had to drink her own urine,"her daughter said.

"She was feeling like she was going to die."

Her husband, Cruz Torres, who is unemployed, said that he thought his wife was safely in jail and that he had no reason to worry.

Her attorney said he was just gathering details and had yet to talk with Torres-Flores by Monday evening. "It's a horrible, horrible situation,"he said.

Torres-Flores said she had her jacket, but it was cold.

There is a slit of a window in the steel door to the cell, but it is behind a wooden door that opens to the fourth floor hallway of the courthouse, near Storey's chambers.

Storey was not at the courthouse Friday. He went to Little Rock to file for re-election.

Torres-Flores said she never heard any sounds on the other side of the cell's cinderblock walls, even when people were passing Thursday. Helder and Maj. Rick Hoyt said they are unsure how many people walked past in the hall Thursday or Friday. Though Storey was off Friday, some other courthouse staff members were there, Helder and Hoyt said.

Helder promised a thorough investigation and new safeguards - perhaps a video camera in the cell - to prevent a similar occurrence.

Such a mistake had never happened before at the courthouse, although he believed that a janitor cleaning the cell had once gotten locked in by mistake, Hoyt said.

In a written statement, the sheriff, along with Storey and Washington County Judge Jerry Hunton, assured that "immediate measures have been taken to ensure this does not happen again."

(Arkansas pervy joke deleted as a matter of taste.)

No comments: