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Dozens protest at Pima County Jail over deaths of inmates

2021 was one of the deadliest years for inmates, and two have died in 2022

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Frances Guzman marked her birthday, the first without her son, Cruz Patino Jr. outside the Pima County Jail on Friday night. Patino, known as 'Cee Jay' died in the jail in August 2021. - Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

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On Friday night,  Frances Guzman smashed a pinata shaped like a jail cell, walloping the box-shaped lump of cardboard with a baseball bat for several moments as candy rocketed away beneath the twin flag poles in the parking lot of the Pima County Jail.

For Guzman, this was her first birthday without her son Cruz Patino Jr., who died at the jail in August 20201 within a few days of his arrest—one of 10 people who died in the detention center in 2021. Guzman wore sweatpants bearing her son's nickname "Cee Jay," and set off fireworks as part of her protest.

Guzman said she had been worried about her son after his arrest, and decided to set up an appointment to see him on Tuesday, Aug. 3. However, before she could see him, she received a call from the jail that her son had been found in his cell, and was sent to St. Mary's Hospital, where he died an hour later. "They didn't do anything for him," she told the Tucson Sentinel on Friday night. "I had my visit scheduled because I was worried about him, I wanted to make sure he was OK," she said. "But, he wasn't."

As public defenders Joel Feinman and Sarah Kostick noted in a guest opinion for the Sentinel last week, "Last year was the deadliest year at the Pima County Jail since at least 2009. In 2021, one person died in the jail approximately every 31 days – the majority of them young men of color 'found unresponsive in their cells.'"

"2022 is on track to be even deadlier; already this year two more young men have died in the jail’s care and custody," they wrote.

Guzman's birthday celebration was part of a protest outside the jail, on West Silverlake Road near South Mission Road, as more than 80 people assembled in the parking lot to demand transparency and accountability from the Pima County Sheriff's Department, which runs the jail. In recent months, the No More Deaths Coalition has formed, connecting family members who have lost loved ones in the jail and pushing for transparency from the department.

Before the protest began, Shaun Lopez put together a sign for Sylvestre Miguel Inzunaza, an 18-year-old boy who died in his cell on Feb. 2. The boy, known as "Fatty" by friends and family, was the son of Rosanne Inzunza,  Lopez's girlfriend. "You hear about this stuff, but you don't really understand it, what it means, until it hits home," he said.

Some people lit candles and held signs, while others set off fireworks, played music, and blew a vuvuzela toward the jail. Some yelled for Sheriff Chris Nanos to "show up" and talk to the crowd. Others banged pans and drummed against the parking lot's light-poles, all in an attempt to make enough noise so that inmates could hear them.

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"They need to know we're here," said one woman, one of many people in the crowd.

Later, they spilled across Silverlake Road, blocking westbound traffic for over a half-hour. There Tucson police officers halted cars and attempted to keep the group from marching further east. After several minutes, the crowd decided to turn back, after seeing a PCSD van, and they shifted back onto the jail's property. They surrounded the van with two deputies inside, and then wrote messages on the back and sides reading "Shut down the jail," "KKK Killers," and "Justice for Cee Jay." Someone in the crowd slashed at the tires, leaving them squealing as the air escaped. Several minutes later, more than a dozen sheriff's deputies arrived, and confronted the crowd for more than 20 minutes.

The group then moved back to the parking lot. There, a deputy attempted to arrest one of the protesters for using a sharpie pen to graffiti a light pole, and the crowd reacted and tempers flared. According to the initial complaint filed by a PCSD deputy against two men who were later arrested, one man shoved a deputy, and then attempted to "charge him" but the crowd "held him back."

Two deputies with dogs moved in, and one deputy yelled that his dog "will bite." Deputies declared the protest an "unlawful assembly," and ordered the crowd to disperse, sending people back to their cars as smoke bomb smoldered, sending red smoke into the sky. 

Two people were arrested hours later, after deputies found them in a neighborhood and took them into custody. The two men, Lorenzo Guzman, and Ruben Guzman face several charges. Lorenzo Guzman was charged with rioting, trespassing, criminal damage, and aggravated assault on a police officer. Ruben Guzman was charged with riot, trespassing and criminal damage.

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