Pier 57: ‘Not Club Med’

S.W Sep 22, 2004

By S.W. and T.S.

Those arrested were taken to Pier 57, a disused city bus depot on the West Side Highway. Police spokesperson Paul Browne told the press that the facility was clean and that no one was held there more than eight hours before being transferred to Central Booking.

That account differs radically from that of the prisoners who were kept in its barbed-wire-topped holding pens. The floors were covered with an oily substance and “chalky black stuff, like charcoal,” says Wendy Stefanelli. “People were covered in this black dust.” She estimates she was there about 12 hours.

“It was toxic,” says Kathie Bell, who was held at Pier 57 for 15 hours. “People were starting to break out in welts.”

Charlie Griffin, who works in a Manhattan hardware store, spent 11 hours at the pier after being arrested near Herald Square on Aug. 31. He says there were yellow signs on walls warning workers to wear protective goggles and gloves.

Jeffrey Parrot says he was held at Pier 57 for 19 hours, and police “took my cell phone because they said I could make a bomb.”

“We spoke to a lot of the bus drivers who worked there,” says Joel Kupferman of the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project. “They fueled the buses there, they changed the oil and the transmission fluid. A lot of it wound up on the floor. It’s a modern-age tar pit.”

Kupferman says that over 100 people held there reported respiratory problems and skin inflammations that lasted more than a day, symptoms consistent with exposure to diesel fuel, but the city Department of Health “didn’t want to hear it.”

“They put down carpeting the last day,” Kupferman says. Lawyers for the detainees are now testing 60 articles of clothing for toxic contamination, he adds.

In response, Mayor Bloomberg told the press that jails are “not supposed to be Club Med.”

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