- Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
- El Paso County's Criminal Justice Center houses about 1,500 inmates on any given day.
On Sept. 1, Florida-based Trinity Services Group took over as the El Paso County jail's food contractor, after Aramark Correctional Services LLC, the county's contractor for 18 years, lost the bid. Problems with Trinity since that date unfold in a series of emails among jail personnel:
Sept. 12: A deputy advises jail Commander Rob King that breakfasts for work release inmates were the same as the lunch meal.
Sept. 17: Sgt. Mike Pitt describes in an email to Lt. Shane Mitchell a chaotic effort to feed inmates. At 1 p.m., an hour and a half after the scheduled lunch hour, lunch was being served in some wards, which caused "obvious back-ups and very upset inmates who started to act out. The problem stems from a lack of supervision from Trinity." [Trinity oversees a kitchen staff composed largely of "trusties," inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes who perform jail jobs.]
Pitt reports Trinity had two new supervisors that day and made only 300 sack lunches, "which is a huge shortage [of more than 1,000 lunches]."
"The shift also burnt the rolls and cookies, which then were being cooked as they needed them. There were also carts of trays that were not supposedly cleaned," he writes.
Pitt states the contractor should prep lunch sacks two days in advance for several sections, including the detox facility and floor security. "The sacks have been subpar at best," he reports. "Yesterday the sacks for lunch consisted of a single slice of meat, 1 roll, and a small bag of corn chips."
Trinity also got behind on dinner that day. "When I brought these issues to Trinity there are a thousand excuses like they need more trustees [sic], they don't have enough food, or blame other shifts and trustees," Pitt writes. "Trinity is still under the impression that cold kosher meals are suppose to be served on Tue instead of Sat. We were told cold kosher meals are to be served on Sat."
Lt. Mitchell forwards the message to King, adding, "This is the issue I have been dealing with.... I know Trinity is new and that we have to expect some unexpected obstacles as they transition into the facility but they have been serving meals in CJC [the Criminal Justice Center] for three weeks now. The mistakes made today are very easily avoided and should not be an issue three weeks in. I am not impressed with their supervisors. They place blame on everyone and everything other than themselves. Today's events created a substantial issue for our staff and facility operations. At times it got a little sketchy with numerous inmates throughout the facility losing their patience and composure. We are solid now, but this needs to be addressed with Trinity at a higher level than me."
That same day, Mitchell tells King a sack lunch given to an inmate consisted of "a small little roll and four carrots. That's it! This is the second such sack lunch I'm now aware of."
Sept. 18: King forwards the earlier message to Trinity, saying, "A couple more of the emails I mentioned. We need to get on top of this ASAP."
Trinity's Mark Yearout responds by copying Trinity employee Leland Smith. "Leland, this is extremely concerning. We need to get this issue resolved immediately... We cannot have disruptions in the facility due to food services."
That same day, Lt. Bill Burns advises King that "for the last few days, the meals from Trinity have been short on portion size. This has apparently been consistent. I checked with Bravo [ward] and Echo [ward] to see if it was more than one ward and the deputies said they had noticed it as well. Echo 1's deputy said the Trinity worker said they didn't get a shipment. Also, it appears that Trinity only has two staff working the kitchen." (Sheriff's spokesperson Jackie Kirby tells the Indy via email that, "Our contract requires one trinity [sic] staff member per every five inmates working in the kitchen." More than 20 trusties work there at any given time.)
Two hours later, King reports to Trinity, "I'd like to meet to get ahead of these issues as soon as possible. Not sure what is going on and there is always the possibility that there is some exaggeration of circumstances going on but in either case, something has changed. We have gone [from] everyone was happy with 'food service' to no one seems happy. The exception seems to be the ODR [Officer Dining Room], everyone seems to like the ODR. Problem is, the ODR is a 'nice to have' feeding the inmates is a 'must have.'"
Within minutes, Trinity's Yearout replies, "This is highly concerning, as we had been operating on a positive note. I am confident that Leland will correct these issues."
Lt. Mitchell then tells King, "Just a heads up. There has [sic] been grumblings throughout the wards the last three days reference the food service. The primary complaints I'm hearing have to do with the entree portion size. In addition, meals are not being served in a timely, consistent manner. I have already informed you of the sack lunch problem. Yesterday and today I observed that empty trays were being delivered to the wards as part of that wards tray count for that meal. [Trinity bills the county per tray.] How are four to six empty trays being loaded onto the carts and delivered to the ward as if they contained food?" (Asked about this passage, Kirby tells the Indy that inmates are not missing meals. "Nobody goes without a meal," she says, "unless they refuse the meal.")
"You can imagine the issues and delays that this causes," Mitchell continues. "My concern is that the inmates in several Wards (G2, F4 and E3) are telling me when I walk into the Ward that if something isn't done to address the food issue that they will have to take matters into their own hands. I assured them that I was aware of several of their concerns and that I was working with my Chain of Command to resolve any legitimate issues. There is also an issue with the 'Kosher' meals and their distribution. Tonight four (4) inmates in G4 refused their 'Kosher' meal which was a cold grilled cheese sandwich. [A grilled cheese sandwich satisfies Kosher requirements.] Interestingly enough, one of the trustees ... informed me that when he arrived in the kitchen on the morning of this date, the Trinity supervisor advised him that they did not have the necessary food to start preparing the days 'Kosher' meals so they ordered him to start making grilled cheese sandwiches for those orders. The inmate stated, 'I knew it was wrong, they knew it was wrong. They just don't have the food they need to properly prepare the meals I guess. I just did what I was told.'"
Sept. 24: King writes to Trinity, "Leland and I are working through last week's issues. He has a great attitude and I am very comfortable addressing issues and/or concerns with him directly. Every day gets better and I have been spending more time observing what is occurring in and around the kitchen and offering some suggestions when I feel I have solid information or concerns. I'm trying very hard to not overstep my bounds and thus far Leland seems open to my suggestions. I think the number one problem he is having is lack of staff and therefore lack of supervision. Once he is at full staff, I think he will do much better. Meals to the work release facility have been our biggest obstacle this past week. Some of the issues were on Leland's side in the form of shortages of product and some of the problems were the result of my staff overstepping their authority and refusing some trays which they should not have refused. It caused Leland's staff to have to make additional trips. I do wish we had a more suitable vehicle to transport the food back and forth between the two facilities [jail and work release] other than the back of a truck. At a minimum, I think we need to get the topper fixed so the rear window can be closed and secured... The ODR [Officer Dining Room] has been great. Everyone loves the recent additions and the quality of meals has been very good."
Sept. 26: King advises Yearout, "We had a very good weekend with only one or two problems which we have already addressed with Leland. As long as we continue to show improvement, I don't see the need to change things at this early stage."
Sept. 30: Lt. Bill Huffor writes to King: "Trinity staff did not show up on time tonight. They usually arrive around 0130 in conjunction with the first wave of kitchen workers. I got a hold of Leland at approximately 0150 hours. He made a couple of calls and then called me right back and told [me] staff were on their way in. Trinity staff then showed up around 0215.
"In the meantime, I pulled keys (I am glad we made that change to give us access) and we were able to get the kitchen workers started and Seiter, Gomez, Johnson and I were all able to pitch in and get the ball rolling until Trinity staff showed up... As you know, a 45 minute delay may not seem like much, but starting off that far behind has the potential to likely make us 2-3 hours behind by the end of the day due to normal hiccups that create delays on a normal day."
Oct. 4: King writes to Trinity's Leland Smith saying, "What happened?"
That same day, a deputy advises several sheriff's personnel that an inmate "has a corn and gluten allergy ... her meal contained grits (corn) and cake ... gluten allergy ... they gave her bread (again)."
King then asks staff to "get with Medical" to "ensure we are getting this inmate's diet right. I'm being told this is nearly a daily event with this inmate to the point the deputies are starting to side with her and advocate on her behalf."
Oct. 28: Sgt. Doug Lundstedt writes to Smith that on that evening, only two Trinity workers were supervising 22 inmates in the kitchen. "When one of the supervisors goes out to deliver meals, that will leave twenty inmates and one supervisor in the kitchen. Can you really expect the supervisor to have any idea what is going on in the kitchen? Can you honestly say you are setting them up to be successful? 22 inmates and the office door open the whole time. Several items (radio, spoondle, 4 foot whip stirrer, black marker) were removed from the office and no one was aware of it. All of these items can be used as a weapon and are huge security risks. I for one do not want to receive notification that one of our kitchen trustees, Trinity workers, or security staff was killed or injured with an item that was not secured in the kitchen."
Nov. 6: Lt. Mitchell reports to Detention Bureau Chief Mitch Lincoln and jail Commander Tom DeLuca. "Shift one of the kitchen is being poorly run and lacks supervision. That culminated in a major breakdown in the food service today throughout the facility. Shift two of the kitchen came to work to find out that they were missing forty-seven diet lunches. Meaning that Shift one failed to prepare them. In addition, many of the tray counts received from the Ward Deputies did not make it to the Ward. As a result, Shift 2 had to make the missing lunches and wound up not finishing lunch service until about 1515 hours [lunch hour normally starts at 1130 hours]. This in turn backed up the preparation for the dinner service which just started at 1650 hours [dinner service normally begins at 1600 hours]. That means that Trinity will not get the dinner service done until late tonight. In addition, I was just informed that the Shift 1 Kitchen crew failed to start prepping the 1500 plus sack lunches for tomorrows lunch service.
"That means that the Shift 2 Kitchen crew will have to stay very late tonight in an effort to get at least half of those lunches prepared so that we don't face a crisis tomorrow at lunch and run short of meals to serve. Hopefully, Shift 1 Kitchen crew will actually do some work tomorrow morning and get the remaining sack lunches prepared in time for an efficient lunch service. On top of that, I just discovered that the Shift 2 Kitchen crew has not even been afforded a lunch break by their supervisors due to all the issues encountered today. To their credit, they have stepped up and accepted the challenge. Point is, they shouldn't have to. I telephoned Leland and attempted to bring all of these issues to his attention. Hopefully he understands my concerns and is actively trying to fix this ongoing issue with the Shift 1 Kitchen crew. It appears that Shift 2 Kitchen crew will be made to stay late tonight in an attempt to catch up on all the work that Shift 1 failed to get done. This has a domino effect on Floor Security as well as the inmates. I find it hard to believe that this far into their contract Trinity is still struggling to deliver their services effectively and efficiently. When I speak with their supervisors and Leland, they act like they are on completely different pages."
About 21/2 hours later, Lincoln emails Trinity, "This needs to be addressed immediately... we are too far into this contract for these kinds of serious issues to be arising. We have addressed far to [sic] many problems at this point for the amount of money we are spending on this contract. By now, my expectation is for supervisors and managers to be keenly familiar with this agency's operation on all shifts [and be] able to anticipate and react to any problems."
Nov. 19: A riot broke out involving at least nine inmates.
Dec. 2: King writes to the sheriff's media spokesperson in response to a reporter's questions, "We did not have a riot."
Rather, he writes, "several inmates" complained about food portions. "We believe this was a ploy to get an 'extra sack lunch' in addition to the tray," he writes, noting a similar scenario of the week before. "In other words, we 'taught' the inmates that by complaining about the portions, they have a chance of receiving a second tray or sack lunch. We have learned from this and will not make that mistake again."
If the jail's Special Response Team hadn't responded, "the situation could have easily turned into a riot," King writes.
That same day, Trinity's Yearout tells King, "I am highly concerned that food service may have caused your team this amount of grief. I see [in a media statement] that you attribute the incident to inmate manipulation, but I want to ensure that we are doing our part in keeping incidents to a minimum."
King replies to Yearout, "Leland and his team are doing very well. I have still not heard any complaints about the quality or taste of the food. In many cases, I have had inmates tell me the food is much better than the last guys. I am concerned by the repetitive nature of the complaints concerning portion size."
King also blames Aramark, saying it "refused to participate in a peaceful transition after they lost the contract."
— Pam Zubeck