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Arkansas Woman, Left in Cell, Goes 4 Days With No Food or Water
The New York Times
Adam Nossiter
March 12, 2008

A woman was locked for four days in a tiny holding cell in a northern Arkansas courthouse, forgotten by the authorities and left without food or water, the local Sheriff's Department said Tuesday.

The woman, Adriana Torres-Flores, 38, a longtime illegal immigrant from Mexico, slept on the floor with only a shoe for a pillow, and with nothing to drink except her own urine, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. There was no bathroom in the cell.

A bailiff had apparently forgotten that he placed Ms. Torres-Flores, a mother of three, in the cell last Thursday, and simply left her in the empty courthouse, in Fayetteville, over the weekend, said the chief deputy of the Washington County Sheriff's Department, Jay Cantrell. A snowstorm meant that there were far fewer people than usual working at the courthouse on Friday.

"He just flat forgot about her," Mr. Cantrell said, adding that the bailiff, Jarrod Hankins, had been placed on administrative leave, having been on the job a few months. "It was just a horrible mistake," Mr. Cantrell said.

When the bailiff opened the door of the cell on Monday, Ms. Torres-Flores was lying on the floor, the deputy said. The cell typically holds prisoners for no more than an hour, measures 9 feet by 10 feet and contains only a metal table with benches that swing out from it. It has a steel door and concrete walls.

"From what I understand it sounds horrible to say it was an oversight," said Nathan Lewis, Ms. Torres-Flores's lawyer. "No one is walking around there Friday, and she just got left in there over the weekend."

"There's no water, there's no food," Mr. Lewis added. "She basically said it was really bad."

She was taken to a hospital and treated, and is now recovering at home, Mr. Lewis said, "very worn out from the whole ordeal."

Ms. Torres-Flores has been in the United States for 19 years, and her children were born here, though she is in the country illegally, said her immigration lawyer, Roy Petty. Mr. Petty said she had been among numerous people arrested at a flea market on charges related to the sale of pirated DVDs and CDs.

She went to court Thursday for a hearing on a plea agreement over the charges, but decided to plead not guilty. She was then placed in the holding cell for transfer to the county jail, since the new plea was contrary to the terms of her original release on bond. Instead, she was forgotten.

"Everybody is backing away from it as fast as they can," Mr. Petty said. "Frankly, that's how they treat Hispanics down here. They treat Hispanics like cattle, like less than human."

Mr. Cantrell, the deputy, said there would be an investigation. "There was no malicious intent," he said. "The whole thing is terrible."

In Little Rock, Rita Sklar, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Arkansas, said the organization was very concerned.

"There certainly have been a lot of problems in that corner of the state, in terms of police treatment of Latinos and bigoted statements by government officials," Ms. Sklar said. "We're looking into the general problem in northwest Arkansas of racial profiling and abuse of power."
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