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Inmates complain of tear gas in jail cells in Justice Center

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    PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) — It’s not just protesters who are feeling the effects of tear gas from federal officers, according to a federal defender who says her clients in the detention center within the Justice Center are also getting tear gassed.

Federal Defender Lisa Hay says early this week, several inmates on the 7th and 8th floors of the Justice Center complained to her about tear gas in their cells.

“I think they were frightened because they didn’t know how bad it was going to get, and as the tear gas kept pouring into their cells, they ended up lying on the floor to try and get fresh air, which is just frightening,” Hay said. “It should never have happened.”

Hay says her clients pushed the panic buttons in their cells to get help from the guards. She says after about 30 minutes, guards arrived and opened the food slot in the doors to allow for fresh air.

“It’s a pretty terrible situation if you’re a presumptively innocent person waiting for trial, the state should be taking care of you, not tear-gassing you,” Hay said.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that it was aware of complaints from some of the adults-in-custody.

“Starting Tuesday, July 21, employees and adults in custody experienced a decrease in air quality due to smoke from fires set by demonstrators on 2nd Ave., and later some effects from tear gas deployed by federal officers,” the statement said.

The sheriff’s office says it decided to regularly close air dampers from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. That means the building’s air flow is recirculated and filtered rather than drawing air from outside. Hay says the sheriff’s office needs to do more.

“I hope the sheriff will work with federal law enforcement to ask them to stop tear gassing people on the streets of Portland. The people in the detention center have a right to clean air and they shouldn’t have to turn the ventilation off to have clean air,” Hay said.

The sheriff’s office went on to say its duty is to keep everyone safe.

“We care deeply for the adults in custody and have a legal and moral obligation to protect them, as well as dozens of corrections deputies and county staff that provide rehabilitation, support and health services around the clock,” said Sheriff Mike Reese in a statement.

The sheriff’s office said it does everything it can to keep people in the building safe, but they can’t always control the environment around them.

The sheriff’s office says right now there are about 250 people in custody in the jail inside the Justice Center. It did not know how many inmates had been impacted by smoke and tear gas.

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