A lawsuit has been filed against two Santa Ana officers that claims they left two federal detainees in a hot van for four hours.
The lawsuit says that Dongyuan Li, a 41-year-old Chinese citizen, and Romaldo Marchan Delgado, a 56-year-old Mexican citizen, were put in handcuffs, ankle shackles and waist chains, and put in the back of a transport van after their hearings at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building on April 8. They were put in the van to be brought back to the Santa Ana jail, where they were being housed.
Caroline Contreras, a correctional officer at the jail, and Officer Ricky Prieto of the Santa Ana Police Department went inside the jail and left the two detainees in the van. The suit claims the van was left in direct sunlight with the windows rolled up, and that the outside temperature was 84 degrees.
As the temperature increased in the vehicle, both the detainees “began crying and sweating profusely … they struggled to breathe and wondered why they had been abandoned by the very persons who were charged with ensuring their safety. [Li and Marchan Delgado] eventually began to despair; with no end to their suffering in sight, they believed that they would die in that van.”
A police vehicle eventually pulled up alongside and parked next to the van. An officer, Prieto, allegedly got out of the police vehicle and walked around the van. Delgado tried to get his attention by hitting the side of the van. However, Prieto went back inside the jail and didn’t come back.
Hours later, Li saw another Santa Ana officer walk by the van. She banged the side of the van to get his attention. Soon afterward, several officers opened the van and removed the detainees. They were both suffering from extreme dehydration and heat exhaustion and were taken to the Orange County Global Medical Center.
Thomas P. O’Brien, a lawyer for both the detainees, said it wasn’t clear why the officers left them in the van and whether or not they were punished
“They were absolutely helpless, chained up in the back of this sweltering van, and both of them, we think, almost died,” O’Brien said. “They’re traumatized to this day, understandably, and we want to find out why it happened and make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”