West Valley Detention Center

The West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga. (Jennifer Cappuccio Maher — Staff photographer)

By Ryan Hagen, San Bernardino Sun
Posted: 10/22/14, 10:36 AM PDT | Updated: 9 hrs ago

LOS ANGELES >> The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department doesn’t allow gay, bisexual and transgender inmates at West Valley Detention Center the same access to rehabilitation opportunities, religious services, time outside their cells and other services that other inmates receive, alleges a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the ACLU of Southern California.

The class-action lawsuit lists 15 current or former inmates who allegedly were put in a segregated “Alternative Lifestyle Tank” that houses up to 32 of the 3,347 inmates at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga once they self-identified as gay, bisexual and/or transgender (GBT).

“GBT inmates are not given equal access to opportunities to reduce their sentences, services, programs and facilities, and are often treated in an abusive and neglectful manner,” the lawsuit claims. “In short, GBT inmates at WVDC serve longer sentences and endure substantially worse conditions of confinement simply because they are gay, bisexual or transgender.”

And that, the lawsuit says, violates the equal protection guarantees of the California and U.S. constitutions.

The department hasn’t yet been served with a lawsuit, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Bachman, and would have no comment. A sheriff’s official familiar with the jail’s procedures wasn’t available to comment Wednesday.

Inmates say they understand the need to serve the time they’re sentenced to — but not more than other inmates.

“I understand the need to serve my time. On top of that, to be punished because of what I identify as is not right,” said Peter Guzman, 34, a San Bernardino native who spent seven months in West Valley Detention Center beginning in January. “They’re supposed to protect and serve, not harass and abuse.”

Guzman said he was ultimately allowed to participate in a work program, helping in the law library, which makes inmates eligible for increased visits and a reduced sentence. But that came only after repeated requests and eventually a threatened lawsuit by his family.

“Even then, they made me change (from an orange jumpsuit to a blue one for working) in a closet, and I had to deny who I was,” Guzman said.

According to the lawsuit, filed through the ACLU and the law firm of Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt, Guzman also should have been released two months earlier than he was because he was denied work credits.

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