Guest Commentary: Medical Neglect, Deliberate Indifference, and the Conspiracy to Harm Disabled Detainees at the Geo Group El Centro Detention Facility

By Malik Washington, Destination Freedom Media Group

We are going to start this article with a quote.  The quote is as follows:

“The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishment and embodies broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102; 97 S. Ct 285, 50 L.Ed. 2d 251 (1976).  A prison official violates the 8th Amendment, when he (or she) acts with deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs of an inmate.”  LexisNexis Legal Research.

There are compelling and valid reasons for the public at large to be informed about conditions inside county jails, detention centers, and prisons.  Those compelling and valid reasons are magnified exponentially when the detention center in question is operated by an infamous for-profit prison corporation like GEO Group.

This is a follow up report to the story I wrote about a detainee named Gilberto Garcia who hails from Calexico, California.  Gilberto suffers from a debilitating seizure condition which causes him to have intense and uncontrollable grand mal seizures.


On or around Wednesday, March 20, 2024, Gilberto Garcia left El Centro Detention facility and was transported to San Diego, California, to meet with his attorney, Laura Marran, and attend a scheduled hearing.  During the hearing, Gilberto had a volatile and violent grand mal seizure in front of his sentencing judge.  Gilberto was escorted by approximately 30 U.S. Marshals and other governmental agents to San Diego State University Hospital.  While he was housed at the hospital, Gilberto received high-quality, effective medical care.  After he was treated at San Diego State University Hospital, the inevitable happened, Gilberto was returned to GEO Group’s El Centro facility.  Upon his arrival, he was informed that he would not be allowed to return to his housing unit of Bravo East, but would be held on the medical unit in a single-man cell equipped with a surveillance camera.

On Saturday, March 30, 2024 at approximately 2:00 pm, a group of detainees who are housed on Bravo East (formally known as Alpha South) returned from scheduled appointments at the medical department here at the GEO El Centro facility.  All of the detainees reported seeing Gilberto and said he was desperate to relay a message to me.  I interviewed one of the detainees for this article, Mr. Mario Palomares.  Mr. Palomares spoke directly with Gilberto inside the medical department.  Mr. Palomares said, and I quote, “Gilberto asked me to tell you that the Health Service Administrator at El Centro, a Mrs. Smith and other high-ranking administrators at the GEO facility, won’t allow him to return to our dorm.  Gilberto said since being housed in the medical unit, he has continued to have violent seizures, but security and medical staff have been taking up to 30 minutes to respond to his medical emergencies although there is a camera in his cell.  At various times and intervals, Gilberto said that he has urinated on himself while having seizures.  He also said that when he feels a seizure approaching, he feels an aura and that he has banged on his cell door and wall in order to get the guards’ attention. Gilberto said that many times the guards are asleep rather than monitoring the surveillance cameras or him. Furthermore, Gilberto said the medical and security staff have refused to call in an emergency.  They have refused to contact emergency first responders when he has a grand mal seizure so that he can be transported to a facility that can properly care for him.”  Lastly, Gilberto said that GEO staff refused to issue a “Code Blue” alert which alerts staff of an emergency man-down situation.

As fate would have it, my partner and colleague, Gale Sanders Washington, was scheduled to visit me in person at the GEO facility on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2024.  What was surprising that on that very day, in the visiting booth right next to Gale and I, was Gilberto and his beautiful and devoted mother, Martha.  Gale arrived at approximately 10:50 a.m.  After discussing personal matters, I explained Gilberto’s situation and the conditions of confinement inside the medical unit.  It was extremely helpful that Gale arrived in person because I was able to convey key details about what was actually happening inside the GEO facility without being subjected to audio surveillance.  Upon leaving, Gale sent a text to Gilberto’s attorney.  Gale and I are journalists and activists, but it is up to attorneys like Ms. Marran to do the heaving lifting in order to hold GEO group accountable for the harm that is being visited upon her client and others. Ms. Marran is an expert in criminal defense law, while I specialize in civil law.

In order to establish an 8th Amendment violation, a detainee must satisfy both the objective standard which shows that the deprivation was serious enough to constitute cruel and unusual punishment.  Next, the detainee must satisfy the subjective standard which illustrates deliberate indifference.  See Snow v. McDaniel, 681 F.3d 978, 985 (9th Cir. 2012).  To establish and satisfy the first prong of the standard, the detainee or prisoner must show a serious medical need by demonstrating that a failure to treat his or her condition could result in further injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.  Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006).

Now I would like our readers to imagine this hypothetical of Gilberto’s situation:

He suffers a seizure and while writhing on the floor in the midst of the episode, he slams his head to the floor causing a hematoma and a severe concussion.  GEO Group employees refuse to call El Centro EMS first responders and Gilberto dies in his sleep. 

This hypothetical situation could easily become a reality and it brings us to our next standard. In order to satisfy the deliberate indifference standard, a detainee or prisoner must show (a) a purposeful act or failure to respond to a prisoner’s pain or possible medical need, and (b) harm caused by that indifference.  Example:

GEO Group El Centro guards sleeping on duty or ignoring Gilberto’s pleas for help while he is in the midst of a seizure. 


[Editor’s Note:  On or around March 22, 2024, Gilberto Garcia USMS #00460-511 was transported back to GEO El Centro and was housed in the medical unit until April 2, 2024.  During that time, his body adjusted to the new pharmaceutical regimen he was prescribed in San Diego.  The treatment that he received at the SDSU Hospital eventually provided the desired results and stabilized his seizure condition.  Gilberto asked us to express his heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to the doctors at SDSU Hospital and to the members of the US Marshal Service who responded so quickly and effectively to his dire medical needs.]

On April 2, 2024, GEO Group El Centro Nurse Practitioner Ms. Castaneda signed an order that released Gilberto from the medical unit so that he could return to the dorm setting on Bravo East.  I met with Gilberto upon his return and this is what he had to say:

“One of the things that has angered me is that GEO Group’s medical department at El Centro cared for me in a way that was grossly neglectful and that placed my life at risk. I had numerous seizures at the facility and was evacuated by ambulance many times to the hospital, but for some reason, they kept changing my medication, modifying dosages, and experimenting in a way that worsened my condition.  It wasn’t until I had a seizure in San Diego and the U.S. Marshals took me to San Diego State University Hospital where I met a young, qualified physician who properly diagnosed me, prescribed the correct medication, and ordered the proper dosage. 

“Now, it appears that my condition has stabilized.  I haven’t had a seizure since March 29, 2024, and I am thankful that I didn’t die because of GEO Group’s negligence and mishandling of my medical condition.“

Gilberto and I also discussed the conditions inside GEO Group El Centro’s medical unit, and he had this to say, and I quote:

“There is this young Honduran kid that was housed near me while I was stuck in medical.  They kept placing him on suicide watch and all he’s requesting is that he be allowed to shower everyday.  The guards treat him horribly and GEO administrators keep transferring him between GEO El Centro medical and Paradise Hills Hospital in San Diego. He’s trapped in solitary confinement and is not receiving the mental health treatment or care that he needs. There is no one to advocate for him. Because he seems to have a mental illness, the Honduran detainee’s rights are ignored.  I wish I knew his name.”

In 2017, I wrote an article entitled, “Mentally ill prisoner, ignored and neglected, commits suicide in solitary confinement at Eastham Ad-Seg Unit.

I am going to quote information that I uncovered from this article in the case of Ruiz v.. Estelle, 503 F.Supp. 1265, 1339 (Dist. Court, SD Texas 1980).  The court stated:

The components of a minimally adequate mental health treatment program may be ascertained by resort to judicial precedent in previous prison cases, by consideration of the expert testimony in the instant case, and by applying the basic principles of minimally adequate care to the specific problem of mental health care. These all lead to the following conclusions with respect to basic minimum standards for mental health treatment in the Texas Department of Corrections. First, there must be a systematic program for screening and evaluating inmates in order to identify those who require mental health treatment.

“…treatment must entail more than segregation and close supervision of the inmate patients. Third, treatment requires the participation of trained mental health professionals, who must be employed insufficient numbers to identify and treat in an individualized manner those treatable inmates suffering from serious mental disorders.

“…prescription and administration of behavior-altering medications in dangerous amounts, by dangerous methods, or without appropriate supervision and periodic evaluation, is an unacceptable method of treatment. Sixth, a basic program for the identification, treatment, and supervision of inmates with suicidal tendencies is a necessary component of any mental health treatment program.”

The medical and mental health supervisors at the corporate headquarters of GEO Group in Boca Raton, Florida need to be paying close attention to what I am saying here because GEO El Centro is not adequately staffed nor are the officers adequately trained to deal with detainees like the Honduran inmate who are suffering from mental illness.  We at Destination Freedom firmly believe that it is time that trial lawyers from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division take an active interest in the GEO Group’s El Centro Detention facility.

Indifference may appear when GEO Group El Centro medical staff deny, delay, or intentionally interfere with medical treatment or it maybe shown by the way facility physicians provide medical care.  Note: when a detainee or prisoner alleges that a delay in medical treatment triggers deliberate indifference, the prisoner or detainee must show that the delay in treatment led to further injury.  See, Shapley v. Nevada Board of State Prison Commissioners, 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985). Gilberto has reported that when he has seizures, he has noticed an issue with his cognitive and analytical faculties. This is troubling to say the least. At GEO El Centro Detention facility, the following employees have acted in a manner that is deliberately indifferent to Gilberto Garcia’s 8th Amendment U.S. Constitutional rights.

  1.      Health Service Administrator, Mrs. Smith
  2.      Records Supervisor, Mrs. Cornejo
  3.      Facility Administrator, Fereti Semaia
  4.      Classification Supervisor, Marie Franco

A point that needs to be emphasized here is that budget decisions often pre-empt or interfere with decisions made by the following listed individuals that would provide adequate health care or mental health treatment to the detainees in their care. I have a clear message to the administrators that I have listed, and that message is listed in a recent quote from Tennessee state representative Justin J. Pearson on April 6, 2024:

“When you are in a position of power, you have a responsibility to do more than send thoughts and prayers.  You have a responsibility to act.”

Truthfully, there is not an employee here at the GEO Group El Centro facility who is unaware of Gilberto’s medical condition.  Their silence and failure to report violations of Federal and California laws regarding the treatment of disabled detainees makes them complicit and culpable in the wrongdoing.  There has been a growing conversation among federal defense lawyers in the Southern District of California about the “failure to accommodate” pre-trial detainees with disabilities. GEO Group El Centro is just one of many facilities that have a contract with the U.S. Marshal Service or ICE, yet many of these detention centers in the Southern District of California failed miserably when addressing the needs of their disabled population.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for