When Ray Batista agreed to serve out a 20 day sentence instead of paying a hefty fine on a hunting-related firearms violation, he didn't realize what was in store.
The incident has revealed that the state does not keep data on inmate safety.
On Monday, June 7, about halfway through his sentence in the Columbia County Jail, Batista was stabbed several times in his left eye by a group of inmates armed with a pencil.
Batista says he was walking from the community area to his cell on the second story tier, when he was pushed into a cell and beaten by a group of White inmates. He says he believes the group of men were White supremacists. Batista, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was one of about 4 people of color out of the 25 men in C-Pod.
"Never met 'em, hadn't talked to 'em, hadn't said anything to 'em," he told The Skanner News from his hospital bed.
Within the small cell, as the inmates threw punches, at least one used a pencil to gouge out his eye and put two puncture wounds in his face. A former golden gloves boxer, Batista said he threw several punches and was able to push his way out of the cell – blocked by several 200 pound men. He said it felt like a game of red rover trying to break his way through them.
He says if he hadn't have made it out of that cell, he doesn't think he'd be alive today.
"My feeling was that I was dead," he said.
After running to his own cell, he pushed the button for help and told the jail's central command post that he was just stabbed in the eye. After several minutes, the jail's only two security deputies arrived. Sixteen minutes later, the emergency call to summon an ambulance was put in, according to Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson.
Batista said he was taken to the nurse's station, where he was offered an aspirin.
"I said, do you think an aspirin will do anything for this eye?" he told the staff member in the nurse's office.
They then went to place him in a holding cell and started to close the door, which Batista resisted.
"I understand they were scared, they were running with their heads cut off, but to try to put me in a holding cell and close the door, that's where I started going crazy, cause I've seen in prison before where they put you in a holding cell and they forget about you and when you're bleeding and bleeding and bleeding, you're going to pass out from loss of blood, so I held that door open, kicked that door open and said, 'No, you're not going to put me in that cell, I'm not going to be forgotten about.
"At that time, when they saw what injuries I had to my face, they should have called 911 right off the bat, not waited until I said, hey I got my own insurance, I'll take care of it and when I said that they said can you have your wife come and get you?"
But Batista says he doesn't have insurance, he was merely desperate for staff to call an ambulance and used it as a persuasion tactic.
The version of events as written down later that same day by Batista and the official jail record differ slightly. Batista says he was assaulted around 12:30 p.m. and didn't leave the jail until close to 3 p.m. Dickerson said the assault occurred at 1:30 p.m. and has Batista leaving at around 2 p.m.
Although Batista still had several days left on his sentence, jail staff furloughed his sentence, only requiring that he check in every day by phone until his sentence was complete.
Batista says he feels he was furloughed in order to rid the jail of responsibility for his medical care. Dickerson said the liability for medical bills is "always determined by insurance companies. We don't involved."
"They would not release me to the ambulance until I filled out that furlough paperwork," he said. "I couldn't get no medical attention until I filled out that paperwork."
Sheriff Dickerson says a furlough is a standard procedure when inmates require extensive medical care.
"We want them to get the best possible care they can get, we don't want to be doing guard duty," he told The Skanner News.
Not that the Columbia County Sheriff's Office could afford to do guard duty if it wanted. They simply don't have the manpower.
Dickerson said there are two security deputies for about 180 inmates. There is another deputy at the booking station and another in the central control room who is not allowed to leave his or her post.
Despite the small number of guards, Dickerson said Columbia County "has a pretty good record in our jail compared to other jails in regards to inmate safety."
But the Oregon Department of Corrections doesn't track inmate safety data. According to DOC spokesperson Jeanine Hohn, there is no central clearinghouse for jail safety data.
"Nobody except the local facility tracks that data," she said. "It's more of a local option to track assaults."
The Department of Corrections audits every local jail facility every two years, although a review of Oregon Statutes governing this review does not reveal any mention of inmate safety, outside of requiring facilities to formulate plans regarding "escape, riots, assaults, fires, rebellions …"
The Washington County Sheriff's Office is currently leading an investigation into the assault. Neither department is naming suspects, although Dickerson said the suspects are still locked up.
Dickerson said there will be an internal review of jail policies to attempt to minimize risks in the future
"(Assaults) are not completely preventable," he said.
In a place that houses people of various levels of violence, Dickerson said, "inmates have a responsibility to make themselves safe."
But Batista says he doesn't know what he could have done differently. He said he was in jail once before, 22 years ago at the age of 18 on a felony marijuana charge in California, and knows the general rules on how to act around other inmates. But he says he had no reason to start any fights. He was doing 20 days in lieu of paying a several thousand dollar fine. He's also a family man with three children, a wife and owns his own construction company.
The firearms violation stemmed from the 22-year-old felony for marijuana possession, he said. He was an avid hunter until he was caught several years ago in Scappoose with his rifle, a felon in possession of a firearm charge for which he received over 400 hours of community service. When he was unable to complete all the community service, he says he made an arrangement with a judge to serve the jail sentence.
A Slow Recovery
Blood still oozing from his closed, swollen left eye lid, a week after the assault that he describes as the worst pain in his life, Batista says the loss of vision still hasn't hit him.
"I'm surprised I'm coping with it as well as I am," he says.
It's difficult to focus with his one good eye, he says, his peripheral vision is shot and his depth perception makes it hard to perform various tasks. The ultra-potent pain killers are barely effective.
"I won't be able to drive for a while," he said.
And swinging a hammer, using a saw or walking on beams for his employment?
"I won't be able to do that at all," he said. "I'm the one who supports the family. My wife works, but the money she makes …"
Batista says he has retained a lawyer for a possible lawsuit.
Ron Weber, a former Department of Corrections employee and volunteer Beaverton police officer, says he is interested in getting a full-blown civil rights inquiry into the assault. He says he will be contacting Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network.
Dickerson said they have identified several suspects and are taking their time with the investigation. He said they are awaiting a statement from Batista.
"I find this to be a barbaric act and I'm incensed that that would happen in our jail, that someone would do that to a human being for any reason," he said.
You can donate to his medical cost fund at any US Bank under the name Raymond Batista.