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County ignoring mold-related sickness at Estrella Jail

Women claim that they have been sickened by mold growth at Estrella Jail. One woman said that the jail “did not comply with proper protocol for sanitation of vents, drains in showers, and bathrooms.” She also said, “There is black mold everywhere. There is no proper extermination of insects and pests… I feel out of breath all the time. I have constant chest congestion and nasal congestion. I have bug bites, constant headaches, and my vision has gotten worse.”

Seventeen women have filed federal lawsuits against Paul Penzone, the Maricopa County Sheriff. In their lawsuits, the women allege that exposure to black mold at the Estrella Jail is making them sick. They symptoms they are experiencing are commonly associated with mold exposure and include itchy eyes, chest congestion, coughs, and headaches; among other symptoms.

The detention center is located on West Durango Street in Phoenix and detains 1,400 women, several of whom are waiting to go to trial or who are serving short sentences, including crimes that are related to illicit substances.

The federal lawsuits that were filed contain similar wording; the women filed joint complaints regarding the unsanitary conditions at the jail and were seeking help. All of the lawsuits were filed pro se; meaning that the women are not represented by attorneys. In some of the lawsuits, Penzone is named as the defendant, in others, the defendant is Estrella Jail.

When Michael Cavaiola, the director of communications and public affairs for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, was asked if there was a black mold problem in Estrella Jail, he said that he would not comment on pending litigation. However, he did say that all of the facilities that are managed by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office are inspected by the County’s Department of Environmental Services on a regular basis. He said those reports are public record.

However, when a local news station contacted the Department of Environmental Services, a spokesperson for the department said that it does not inspect the facilities for mold; rather, they inspect them for general cleanliness.

Johnny Dilone, the media and community relations manager for ESD said, “We do conduct inspections, but none of our inspections would address mold. Mold is not a part of the inspection. It is not something we are looking for.” Dilone did not, however, that if the inspectors found anything that resembled mold during an inspection, they would alert “the responsible party”. In this case, that responsible party would be the jail.

This isn’t the first time claims about black mold in the Estrella Jail have been made. In July, 2017, complaints concerning black mold in the showers and air vents of Dorm G were filed with Environmental Services.

Mold Inspection & Testing Phoenix has years of experience performing mold assessments in Phoenix and the surrounding areas. We urge the Maricopa County Sheriff to arrange for regular mold testing at Estrella Jail to ensure the safety of inmates and staff. To speak with an MI&T representative, call 623.242.2966.