MADISON, Wis. » Corrections officials forced a female inmate to perform naked jumping jacks last year because they believed — wrongly — she had hidden a bottle of urine in her vagina so she could falsify a drug test.
The plan was developed and put into action by Capt. Alfredo Garcia based on the accusation of another inmate, according to internal investigation documents released under the open records law. An officer and sergeant said Garcia told them to conduct a strip search of the inmate and order her to jump up and down while naked in hopes of dislodging the bottle they thought she might be hiding.
Another officer said she heard Garcia give the order, as well. But Garcia maintained the staff at the Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center near Union Grove, Wis., had misunderstood him.
He said he told staff to make the inmate "squat and cough and spring up real quick like a jumping jack and go back down to squat. I never told her to jump up and down."
"I think there was a breakdown in communication if they had her do jumping jacks. I guess they did," Garcia told investigators. "I don’t recall (the inmate) having been out of breath from doing jumping jacks."
Garcia was later disciplined for not following procedures and neglecting his duties, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Joy Staab said. She did not provide specifics about the discipline that was imposed, but said it was "commensurate with the actions of the employee."
In response to the incident, staff members were trained on what to do if they believed they were given an order that violated work rules, Staab said.
Garcia, who has been with the Department of Corrections for about 30 years, did not respond to a request for an interview.
Garcia put together the plan in April 2014 after another inmate alleged the woman was using drugs and had hidden a small shampoo bottle of someone else’s urine in her vagina in case an unexpected drug test were conducted. The 25-year-old inmate he targeted is incarcerated for drug-related convictions and officers said her eyes were dilated the night of the strip-search.
Sgt. Donna Elliott and Officer Tracy Robertson told investigators Garcia ordered them to take the inmate to a shower stall, have her take off her clothes and go through a routine strip-search.
They were then to have the inmate jump up and down while naked and to remain naked while she squatted and urinated into a cup. Ordinarily, inmates are allowed to put on their undergarments or other clothes before urinating.
The inmate was to hold the cup with one hand and keep her other hand on her head, in an apparent attempt to prevent her from interfering with the urine sample.
Before he had officers conduct the search, Garcia asked women on staff about how strong a vagina is and whether a woman could hold a bottle inside her body. He told investigators his staff had not raised any concerns about the procedure.
"If they would have said this would not work, we would not have done it," he said. "That’s why I got female input. One person said (it) may be able to work, but (was) not sure how strong the vagina is."
But at least among themselves, officers had reservations, the records show.
"I told Sgt. Elliott that I wasn’t going to do that because I didn’t think we could do that," Robertson told investigators. "It’s humiliating for the inmate."
Robertson consulted Sgt. Yesica Cruz and told her she didn’t think the plan was in keeping with department policy. Cruz agreed and said health workers should be brought in to conduct a body cavity search if the inmate was suspected of hiding something, according to the records.
"(Robertson) said, ‘Can you believe Garcia told me to have this inmate jump up and down, butt naked during a strip search,’ " Cruz told investigators. "Officer Robertson asked, ‘Can he do that? Isn’t that humiliating?’ Officer Robertson said that she did not feel comfortable doing this."
Robertson and Elliott carried out the standard strip-search Garcia had ordered while he monitored the situation from a control room. Garcia could hear what was going on but did not have a direct line of view of the inmate, according to the investigators’ interviews.
After the strip search was conducted, Elliott mouthed "Should I do it?" to Robertson and Robertson told her no, according to the records.
"After that, Sgt. Elliott glanced toward the (control room) where Capt. Garcia was and we could see his silhouette inside," Robertson said. "Sgt. Elliott then said to (the inmate), ‘This isn’t me, but per the captain, he wants you to jump up and down.’ "
They didn’t find a bottle and afterward they made the inmate urinate in a cup. Corrections officials considered the results questionable, so they did another test with a mouth swab. Garcia performed the swab but initially got inconclusive results. He did a second mouth swab, which came back negative.
An investigation was launched days later, after the inmate complained about her treatment. After the incident she said she had bad dreams and felt "trapped in my mind."
"I understand (their suspicions), and I respect that they’re doing their job, but that’s my body," she told investigators. "If you thought you needed a search warrant for me, bring me to the hospital and let me do that. You didn’t need to do that."
Larry Dupuis, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said inmates have fewer privacy rights than others, but that the treatment of the inmate seemed "extreme." There would have been other ways to check whether the inmate was using drugs, Dupuis said after the Journal Sentinel described the incident to him.
"The approach this captain took seems really boneheaded," he said, "if not abusive."