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After five months in jail, Eddie Quinones is free

Photo by Jack GouldThe man who begged a judge to put him in jail and then couldn't seem to get out again is free.

By the time you read this, Eddie Quiñones, an 18-year-old former Anaheim gang member whose Kafkaesque time in jail was the subject of a recent series in the Weekly, will be a free man—a full month ahead of his original Jan. 14 release date.

Quiñones was arrested after being cited last July for carrying a pocketknife, a minor violation of his probation.

Suddenly, he was released from the Santa Ana Jail at 10 a.m. on Dec. 11. "They came to my cell and told me to pack my things," Quiñones told the Weekly. "They said they were letting me go early."

The Weekly began following his case when Quiñones did something few people do: he begged a juvenile court judge to send him to jail a week early to avoid city police who he says told him, "We'll bring you down." According to his mother, Quiñones wants to put his past behind him, finish high school and find a job.

Quiñones' surprise get-out-of-jail-free card follows a Dec. 1 order by Juvenile Court Commissioner James Odriozola. The judge acted at the prompting of the Orange County public defender's office, which filed a motion seeking Quiñones' early release two weeks ago. But the public defender did so only after the Weekly reported that county officials failed to transport Quiñones to a crucial Nov. 7 hearing in Odriozola's courtroom (see "Where is Edward Quiñones?" Nov. 17).

Quiñones' courtroom nonappearance was a surprise not just to his family and supporters, but also to the public defender's office. Because of overcrowding at juvenile hall, Quiñones had been automatically transferred to Santa Ana Jail in August when he turned 18. Anthony Mesa, a juvenile court supervisor at the public defender's office, said his agency was never alerted about Quiñones' transfer to the jail—where transportation to court isn't provided automatically—and thus had no way of knowing where he was.

The mix-up left Quiñones in a legal twilight. According to both Mesa and two Santa Ana police officials, the Orange County probation department failed to alert the Santa Ana Jail to transport Quiñones to his hearing. "In order for us to transport an inmate, there needs to be a court order," said Lieutenant George Saadeh, Santa Ana Jail's chief executive officer. "We cannot take him anywhere unless we get a request from probation or the public defender."

Things got worse for Quiñones on Nov. 17—the same day the Weekly reported that he hadn't shown up in court. Late that night, he was awakened by a female corrections officer who told him he was being transferred immediately to "administrative segregation," what inmates call "the hole" (see "In the Hole," Dec. 1). Quiñones said he got upset, slammed the wall of his cell with his hand, and cursed the officer. He claimed officers retaliated by handcuffing and beating him, a charge jail officials flatly deny.

"I can tell you that he was never beaten and kicked," said Saadeh. "He was being irrational and cussing at a female detention officer."

Saadeh also said Quiñones was not asleep at the time of the incident and was sent to isolation because he refused to go to bed.

By all accounts, Quiñones was taken to the jail's isolation ward that evening and ordered to spend at least 15 days there. Jail officials confirmed that they're investigating charges made by Quiñones's mother, Cindy Quiñones, and two other Anaheim activists who say they were left outside the jail in the cold after midnight on Nov. 18 when they went to inquire about Quiñones' medical condition following his transfer to the hole. Saadeh told the Weekly that he and Ken Vargas, another jail official, held a Dec. 1 meeting with Cindy Quiñones and others and apologized about the incident.

"We spent a few hours with them," Saadeh recalled. "It was a very productive meeting. We're doing everything we can. There is no conspiracy here."

While Saadeh defended the jail's treatment of Quiñones, he said that Santa Ana Jail officials made several "mistakes" in dealing with the Weekly, whose reporter attempted to interview the inmate more than six times in the past two months. As previously reported in these pages, all but two of those visits were fruitless. Jail officials first refused to let me interview Quiñones unless I could provide his inmate number. On another occasion, prison officials said Quiñones declined to meet with me; Quiñones said he was never asked. But the strangest moment came when officials turned me away because "only non-Hispanic inmates are open for visits on Tuesdays."

According to Vargas, that policy was a temporary one implemented after race rioting broke out inside the jail in July. "There was, at that time, a segregation of visits [by race and ethnicity] that went on for two months," explained Vargas. "In July, there was an incident in which a kid went to the hospital and got stitches. So we put the inmates on lockdown and kept clashing groups from having contact."

Vargas acknowledged that segregating interviews by race "doesn't sound good" and said reporters should have been allowed access to Quiñones regardless of that policy.

For his part, Saadeh expressed "serious concern" and "disappointment" over what he termed "one-sided reporting" in the Weekly. But he apologized specifically for an incident two weeks ago, on my last visit. Then, jail officials attempted to prevent me from bringing a reporter's notebook upstairs to the visiting room—a restriction that has no basis in jail policy. "That was ridiculous," Saadeh concluded. "I think we screwed up how we handled your visit, but that was an aberration."

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