Talib and Tasha Williams

Married despite his prison sentence, Tasha and Talib Williams have bonded over social justice issues. Here they pose with the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture.

The first three cases of Covid-19 at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad were confirmed this week, and an employee at the state prison tells the Weekly that exposure to the virus likely happened during a nighttime raid on July 20 that involved the rounding up of dozens of inmates. 

“I strongly suspect that this incident was the source,” says the employee, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media. “Two of the three people infected were among the 80 or so who were searched.” The third case was in a cellmate of one of them. 

The employee says that officers from outside of CTF were involved in the raid, which CTF Warden Craig Koenig confirms. “There were staff not connected to CTF that participated,” Koenig writes by email. The specifics are “confidential,” he adds, but all the officers involved were “employed within the umbrella of [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] but not necessarily CTF.”

Some of the inmates who were searched in the raid and were tested for Covid-19 are still waiting on their results, according to relatives. 

Among CTF employees, four cases have been confirmed, two in the past week, according to CDCR’s online case tracker. 

The new infections are alarming because some of the worst outbreaks during the pandemic have been taking place at prisons, most infamously at San Quentin where 2,209 cases have been confirmed.  

With some 8,400 cases throughout the state prison system, the facilities located in Monterey County have largely been spared. Next door to CTF is the Salinas Valley State Prison, which had three patients earlier on who have recovered without further spread. 

The employee at CTF says the introduction of outside officers was frustrating because it served to undermine substantial efforts by staff to keep the virus out.

The 3:30am raid on July 20 was carried out as part of an investigation into gang activity, according to Koenig. “While details of this investigation are confidential, I can confirm that an investigation was held as the result of Security Threat Group behavior,” he writes, using the official term for prison gangs. 

Koenig says he was present for the search that “staff were masked and the inmates were socially distanced.”

His account is contradicted by relatives of dozens of inmates who took to the internet to accuse the staff of not covering their faces during the raid, not allowing inmates to retrieve their own masks, and of crowding the inmates in the mess hall.

“The men were slammed around by wannabe commandos in full riot gear, then zip-tied and led in the dark to the chow hall,” wrote Tasha Williams, whose husband, Talib Williams, is incarcerated at CTF. 

Families and friends of the inmates are organizing a series of protests in August, with the first one taking place on Aug. 6 outside CTF and at Salinas City Hall. This effort is part of We Are Their Voices, an informal statewide network supporting the incarcerated. 

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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