FARMINGTON – About 35 detainees from two COVID-19 “pods,” or units, at the San Juan County Detention Center barricaded themselves inside the upper level of the detention center Monday in protest of being served only one hot meal per day and a lack of coronavirus test results, according to a news release issued by San Juan County, New Mexico.
Fires were started in the two pods when law enforcement, including the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team, was called to the detention center.
One injury was reported among the detainees. The person was taken to the hospital.
The unrest began Sunday afternoon when detainees asked to speak with detention center administration about a list of concerns. Detainees said they were receiving only one hot meal a day and were not receiving coronavirus tests or test results.
The news release said staff worked to de-escalate the situation. It escalated Monday when detainees refused their sack lunches. The administrator attempted to calm the situation in pod B6, but was assaulted in the process.
Detainees then broke a fire sprinkler, flooding the pod, and the fire suppression system was turned off. A pile of blankets was lit on fire, leading the staff to turn the fire suppression system back on and call the Farmington Fire Department.
The unrest spread to a neighboring pod, where another fire was started and a bunk was used as a battering ram to try to break down the fire door.
The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and Farmington Police Department SWAT teams removed detainees from both pods, according to the county.
“At no time did detainees control any part of the facility,” the news release said.
The county said the detainees have received one hot meal per day for the last week because there are not enough available detainees to work in the kitchen. Two shifts of six to seven detainees work in the kitchen preparing meals. The county cited low population in the facility as the reason for the temporary change.
The detention center said it is following guidelines from the New Mexico Department of Health, and only detainees who previously tested negative are being retested.
Five pods are available to serve 147 detainees who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The detention center referred the incident to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office for review and charges. In addition to the Sheriff’s Office and FPD, Farmington Fire Department, San Juan County Fire Department and San Juan Regional Medical Center Emergency Medical Services also responded to the detention center.