San Diego The lobby of the Central Jail on Front Street is like a ticket office. Clerks behind glass windows service visitors, bail bondsmen, and attorneys. The mood is low-key and lazy until the elevator doors open and a newly released inmate walks out. The inmates either smile and laugh with relief or wince with tension. Some will never return, while others know that it's likely they'll be back. What separates the inmates from the visitors is their walk: They can't get out of the lobby fast enough.
On Monday afternoon, Jarvis Walker bolts through the lobby glaring straight ahead. Muscular, at six feet and 200 pounds, Walker is intimidating. He has a gash over his left eye, a raw abrasion on his right shoulder, and a swollen lip. His pants are splattered with dry blood stains. At 20 years old, he has never been in jail before, "and I ain't never goin' back."
Many inmates never get as far as the jail dormitories, and such is the case with Walker. He was arrested the night before and spent the last 16 hours in a holding cell. He is out on bond. "I was charged with fighting a police officer and resisting arrest. He never told me what he wanted to arrest me for." He looks through a plastic bag containing the personal belongings confiscated by the jail and returned to him. "I can't find my cell phone."
A navy man for two years, Walker has lived in Imperial Beach for about a year. A native of Charleston, South Carolina, he is stationed on the Bon Homme Richard. Walker had returned six days previously from a WestPac deployment before his arrest. He tells his story in a subdued voice.
"I got dragged while I was in handcuffs. I was pepper-sprayed three times in my eyes. They said I wasn't cooperating." His weary tone betrays his lack of sleep.
"I bit the officer. He was chokin' me. It took four cops to subdue me. I remember we were pullin' in the parking lot at my apartment complex. Some Mexican dudes was sayin' somethin' to my friend Jason about his Jeep, so we went out there, and Jason hit one of the guys and they ran off. We went back in the house. My wife told me to come on, but I saw Jason turn around, and he went back out there. [The lot] was full of Mexican dudes, so I wasn't gonna let him go out there by hisself. I went out there and we saw the police come, so we sat in his car. [The police] came over there and started talkin' to Jason and -- I'm a smart-ass, man, just by nature. I told him he didn't have to answer any questions, 'cause we weren't doin' anything. They said, 'Get out of the car,' so I assumed they wanted both of us to get out of the car. Jason got out. When I got out, they made a big commotion about it. My cell phone's in my pocket, and I tried to grab my phone, and the next thing I know, people are tacklin' me down and sprayin' me with pepper spray. One dude grabbed me in a choke-hold from behind, so I bit him. I just remember bein' sprayed with pepper spray, so I didn't really see everything.
"I remember bein' in the car and bein' outta the car and on the ground. My wife said the way she found out -- I remember yellin' my phone number, too -- I was, like, 'Call my wife!' and gave 'em my phone number -- she said a lady at the 7-Eleven heard me sayin' that, and she called the house. It started in my apartment complex parking lot and it ended up in the 7-Eleven parking lot. I remember them spraying me in my eyes with water. They said they were tryin' to get the pepper spray out, but you could tell they weren't tryin' to get it out. That's when they picked me up. They had my hands and my feet shackled with that thing that connects 'em both; they picked me up by that so my hands are swollen. After I was put in the car for good, I remember 'em talkin' shit to me, but I was talkin' shit to them too!"
No medical treatment was administered for his injuries. "The nurse said I should see someone when I first got there, but that was all that was said about it. They said I would go to a doctor, but at a later date."
A night in the holding cell offers little chance for sleep, and Walker has been awake since Sunday morning. "It's a little cell, about 10 by 10 with two benches and a toilet. Once they put you in there, they take the cuffs off. At one point we had 26 people in there. Then they split us into groups of 13. When I first got there, people were arrested for drinkin' and whatnot. At first, they're pretty rowdy and loud, but after they'd sober up it'd be pretty cool. People were talking, but it was not like they knew each other. It was odd. In a way, they were gloatin' about bein' in there before. Like, 'Last time I was here, they did this and did that,' or 'I've been here for that before, don't worry about it, nothin' happened to me,' you know. I think I was the only person who had never been in trouble. I'm thinking, 'This is dumb. I don't want to be here.' One guy's talkin' about 'the jails on this side of town are nicer here' and whatnot.
"They'd give you something like a bag lunch. They'd have fruit, four slices of bread, ham and cheese. They gave us one late last night and one for lunch, but I didn't eat anything while I was in there.
"The guards are assholes. They think that because they got a badge they're better than everyone else. It's their attitudes. Some of the officers inside...some of them are really nice. You look at all of 'em and you hate em all because of what happened, y'know? On the other hand, some of the people were nice, and I know I just can't classify everybody like that.
"I'm not, like, a big racist person. I grew up in the South, but I didn't see that much of it down there. But I remember when I first came here, I was driving with my wife and I stopped. There was no one in the street, and a police officer came up behind me, followed me, and pulled me over. One guy stood where my wife was, one guy stood by my back door, one guy stood by my other back door, and one was talkin' to me. I asked him, 'What did I do?' and he said that in California you're not allowed to have air fresheners hanging on your mirror. That was the first I'd ever heard of that. He also said he stopped me because I made an illegal stop -- 'cause I stopped to show her something. He gave me a warning. Down in the South, they're open about it. They wear it and they're proud of it. But out here, it's undercover. You've got to get to know people before you understand them, and I do know a few undercover racists."
For Walker, the worst thing about his overnight stay was its injury to pride. "I was stuck in there, and I don't feel I really did anything. Then we had to pay $1500 to get me out for something I didn't do. If I can find that witness.... They did a lot of stuff to us that was crooked. No one read me my rights. I guess the reason I got arrested was for resisting arrest, but I figured you have to have a reason to arrest somebody, and then that person can resist arrest, and that would be, like, an add-on charge. They said, 'You bit an officer and that's resisting arrest,' and I said, 'Why was he on me in the first place?' Then [at the jail] they told me, 'Well, we weren't there, so we don't know what happened.'"
The amount of time it takes to get released is another sore spot. "My wife bailed me out. My bail was $15,000, but you only have to pay 10 percent. They told my wife you can't get someone out till they've been processed. It took them 16 hours to process me. You first get there and they put you in the holding cell downstairs. You're in there forever, then they move you to another cell and you're in there forever. Then they line you up and you go upstairs to the second floor and you're there forever. It just seemed like we'd go one place and do somethin', then sit. You sit for hours at a time. Most of the guys just slept. They'd move, find a spot on the ground, and sleep until it's time to go again. The whole time I was there, I was being processed. Then they said that once someone has made your bail, it takes four hours from the time your bail's made until you actually get out. I never heard of that. Due process should mean something, and I don't think it should take 16 hours to process people. I was arrested at 10:51 last night, and I was released at 3:00."
Until his arrest, Walker's life has been quiet. "I've never been in trouble with the law at all. I played linebacker on the high school football team. When I started out, my grades weren't too hot, and I started studying and they improved. I went to college for two years at the College of Charleston. I was gonna study business. I was offered a partial scholarship to Grambling, but I stayed in Charleston. It was a girl." He shakes his head. "I stayed home for her, and she cheated on me -- but that's cool." His right arm has tattoos with the word "mind" stacked over the word "matter" and a tiger below, all on the side of his bicep. "After she cheated on me, I knew I was goin' in the military, and I went out and got this tattoo. I was just bein' young and stupid. When I joined the Navy, I went through basic training at Great Lakes. I've got four more years, but most likely I'm gonna re-enlist. I've been married a year. I got a boy, four months old."
Walker recalls his past mistakes with regret, yet he is defiant. He speaks with humility while claiming smart-ass status. He insists he wouldn't do anything differently if he faced the cops again. "All my friends tell me, 'When the police come around, watch your mouth -- don't say anything.' But that's not me. If I didn't do anything, I'm not goin' to quiet up and run from 'em 'cause they got a badge. Tonight I paid for my mouth, but I wouldn't change anything. I'm pretty pissed about it, but there's nothin' I can do. I never wanted to go there in the first place, and I sure don't want to go back. Fifteen hundred dollars is a lot of money, but I don't want to stay in jail."
As tired as he is, Walker's first priority is to secure legal help. "I'm gonna fight it. I'm goin' to [naval legal services] first. Then I'm going to find the lady who called the house and said she saw it. I'll go to court either tomorrow or Wednesday. Other than that, I'm just lookin' forward to spendin' time with my son."