SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Border Report) — CoreCivic, the private company that runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center is being sued by two guards who have worked at the facility claiming it’s too dangerous for them.

The lawsuits are separate yet both claim the company has failed to provide a safe working environment during the Coronavirus crisis.

The plaintiffs are Margarita Smith and Gregory Arnold. Their suits were filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego on Thursday.


In Smith’s case, she states she had to quit her job while Arnold told The San Diego Union-Tribune he was forced to take medical leave due to severe headaches and stress.

“Certainly, there’s no getting around that employers in this state and throughout the country are obligated under the law to provide a safe work environment, and that is especially true when there are known COVID(-19) cases and CoreCivic’s failure to provide even basic personal protective equipment is unacceptable,” Josh Gruenberg, a San Diego employment lawyer who is representing both plaintiffs, told The Tribune on Thursday.

The facility is located in south San Diego, about a mile from the U.S.-Mexico border. It primarily houses detainees awaiting asylum and/or other immigration cases to be heard.

The newspaper reported Friday that 167 detainees, 22 CoreCivic employees and nine medical personnel have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. However, numbers updated Friday afternoon on the ICE website, say 105 detainees had tested positive for the coronavirus. Numbers last updated Tuesday evening say only eight employees have tested positive.

Recently, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, asked for a full investigation into the facility to check into allegations of mistreatment and abuse of detainees.

Smith and Arnold both claim they have pre-existing medical conditions, putting them at risk of getting the coronavirus. They are accusing CoreCivic of failing to provide them with face coverings and/or not allowing guards to wear their own masks while working.

They also claim the company failed to supply personnel with adequate sanitation, social distancing and other health protection as more and more detainees and co-workers came down with the virus.

In response to questions from Border Report, CoreCivic, confirmed that Smith last worked at the facility on March 16, while Arnold remained employed.

“From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Otay Mesa Detention Center has taken affirmative and proactive measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, and followed the most current guidance from medical and industry experts on best practices and recommendations for safe operations,” the statement read. “Our practices have evolved and changed as the CDC guidance and recommendations have evolved over time and as we learn more about the novel coronavirus.”

CoreCivic said it continues to work closely with its partners at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), and ICE Health Services Corps (IHSC), which provides the healthcare at the facility, to ensure the health and safety of everyone at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. That includes putting into place several steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus like limiting movement around the facility, keeping detainees who have testes positive separate from tho who haven’t and serving meals at the housing pods to avoid having large gatherings in the dining facility. CoreCivic also said masks have been provided to all staff and detainees in accordance with updated CDC recommendations.

Read CoreCivic’s statement on Otay Mesa and about the steps the company has taken to keep detainees and employees safe here.

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