SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A five-hour bus trip to bring immigrant detainees from Northern California to Bakersfield turned into a day-long ordeal, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday accusing a Homeland Security contractor of using a windowless van to transport the immigrants in suffocating heat that caused them to vomit and faint.
Four Mexican women aged 39 to 66 sued G4S Secure Solutions, a company contracted with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to drive detainees from one detention facility to another, claiming inhumane treatment during a 280-mile journey in July 2017.
What would normally be a five-hour trip took over 24 hours, the woman say in their 30-page complaint, shuttled between facilities via bus and van and denied food and water, access to restrooms and medication.
“Plaintiffs suffered symptoms of heat stroke and dehydration, and almost died while caged in an unsafe, extremely hot, and dangerously driven vehicle without sufficient air for hours on end,” the woman say in their complaint
The women are represented by Neel Chatterjee of Redwood City law firm Goodwin Procter and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California.
“Both ICE and G4S have long histories of mistreatment of detainees,” Chatterjee said in a statement.
“When the government detains people, it needs to ensure the detainees’ health and safety. The fact is, someone could have died in the back of one of those sweltering vans.”
According to the complaint, the women were housed at the West County Detention Facility in the Bay Area city of Richmond. Officers work them before 4 a.m. on July 17, 2017, to be driven to the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield.
Two of the plaintiffs – Maria De Jesus Medina Ramirez and Yolanda Vallejo Medrano – were denied access to their diabetes and asthma medication. Vallejo Medrano had her inhaler confiscated before the trip and Medina Ramirez exhibited signs of diabetic shock after being denied meals and her medication for over 24 hours, according to the complaint.
The women were shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, which made it difficult for them to walk. Vallejo Medrano rolled her ankle when her shoes became loose and a G4S officer “grabbed her roughly, lifted her up, twisted her body, pushed her forward and insulted her” when she couldn’t walk properly when they arrived at the first stop at a facility in San Francisco, according to the complaint.
After waiting for hours inside a “hielera” or “ice box” – a room kept intentionally cold with metal benches – in San Francisco, the women were transported to Gilroy in a school-bus type vehicle.
Once the women arrived in Gilroy, they were separated from male passengers and put in a van that appeared “old, in poor condition and small, as if used for animal control.”
The van had no windows and the women were not allowed to remove heavy clothing, including sweaters and long pants’ before climbing inside, according to the complaint.
Soon after the ride began the women had anxiety attacks, cried, fainted and vomited. The women attempted to help keep the others who fainted conscious by holding each other up and blowing their breath on one another to cool each other down.
The women thought a passenger who had fainted and was unresponsive had died.
The G4S officer who was driving the van yelled at the women to “shut up” when they cried and banged on the metal benches for help. He “ignored them and turned up the radio to drown out their pleas for help,” according to the complaint.
When the women arrived in Fresno several hours later, officers other than the driver opened the doors to the rear compartment holding plaintiffs and “were surprised at the sight and smell of the compartment where plaintiffs were confined,” according to the complaint.
The women say they thought they were going to die in the van and some of them are afraid to be in confined spaces following the incident.
Plaintiff Floricel Liborio Ramos said in a statement they were banging on the walls “but they couldn’t hear us, or they just didn’t listen.”
She added: “I thought I would take my last breath in the back of that van.”
Maria Valdovinos Diaz is also named as plaintiff.
The press office for G4S Secure Solutions did not return an email request for comment.
Claims include assault, battery, negligence and infliction of emotional distress. They seek compensatory, general and punitive damages.