Nazi SS bolts in the parking lot of Central Fill, a state corrections department pharmacy in Sacramento, discovered Dec. 2017.
Nazi SS bolts in the parking lot of Central Fill, a state corrections department pharmacy in Sacramento, discovered Dec. 2017.

Response to Nazi symbols at state prison pharmacy worries employees

When a video surfaced in October showing two Nazi flags hanging inside a state corrections office in downtown Sacramento, the footage went viral, spurred coverage in national newspapers and drew public apologies from state officials.

But for some employees at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the incident was familiar. It reflected a nonchalance by CDCR toward symbols of Nazi violence, they say, similar to an earlier incident in which disturbing graffiti languished for seven months before it was covered up.

In December 2017, SS lightning bolts were found spray-painted in the parking lot of the CDCR pharmacy office known as Central Fill. Located in an industrial park on the outskirts of Sacramento, it’s where pharmacists and other state employees process medications before loading them onto trucks to be shipped across the statewide prison system, which incarcerates more than 120,000 people.

Photos and emails about the matter were released to J. last month following a public records request. The white bolts — a logo of the Nazi police force Schutzstaffel, and a common white supremacist symbol — were scrawled inside a parking space.

Employees said they made “daily” efforts to document the hateful markings and made multiple complaints to higher-ups. Yet despite pleas to have the graffiti power-washed or painted over, it stayed in place.

“We had to walk by it for months,” said an employee at Central Fill who asked not to be named.

“I have family members that survived the Holocaust, and some that didn’t,” the person said. “Family members who were in Auschwitz. I take this anti-Semitism stuff seriously.”

The slow response by the CDCR, one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the country, raised concerns among employees about the state’s handling of overt displays of anti-Semitism — highlighted by the Nazi flags, which were displayed prominently in a parole office and spotted by a passer-by.

At the time, a CDCR spokesperson said the flags may have been “training tools” and represented an “unacceptable lack of judgment” by the employee who put them up. They were likely seized from prisoners or parolees involved in one of the state system’s well-documented white supremacist prison gangs, the spokesperson said. Last year, CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said “neutralizing” prison gangs, including the Aryan Brotherhood, was “a top priority for the department.”

In response to J.’s records request, the CDCR produced 68 pages of emails dealing with the parking lot graffiti. They show a convoluted series of messages by authorities and an effort to cover their bases — and, at times, to pass off responsibility. Though it was suggested that Central Fill supervisors contact the Office of Internal Affairs, the investigative branch of the CDCR, there is no evidence that an investigation was opened.

Over the course of several months after the bolts were reported, emails pingponged among more than a dozen CDCR employees: pharmacists, administrators, maintenance workers and supervisors.

Some on the email chains appeared not to understand the meaning of the bolts, and others seemed to downplay their significance. One suggested the markings were related to electrical work at the site, while another erroneously referred to them as “chalk markings.” A third employee wondered whether they were made by landscape workers “trying to get their spray-paint cans going.”

We had to walk by it for months. I have family members that survived the Holocaust, and some that didn’t… I take this anti-Semitism stuff seriously.

A junior pharmacist who grew up in a Jewish household first reported the bolts to supervisors via text on Dec. 31, 2017, the records show.

“Yo, bosses, does this seem like an odd thing to see [in the] parking lot at work?”

A more senior pharmacist agreed the markings were “odd” and wrote that “business services was having power work done.”

“Oh! Maybe!” the employee replied. “I grew up in a Jewish household so I may be seeing it through my own filter.”

The morning of Jan. 8, 2018, the senior pharmacist sent an email with photos of the graffiti to four people under the subject line “parking lot question.”

“Can we follow up with business services to find out what the below symbols mean that are painted in the parking lot at CFP?” the pharmacist wrote.

“Yes we can!” an administrator replied, forwarding the exchange to the administrative services unit, which handles maintenance requests.

The same day, a maintenance employee sent an email with photo attachments to Austin Mitsch at Phelan Development, a third-party property management company, asking “Can we get these … sprayed over or covered up?”

“We are going to have the parking lot redone in a couple months as soon as the rainy season is finished and it will be removed then,” Mitsch responded on Jan. 16 in an email copied to nearly a dozen CDCR employees. “If it is a high cause for concern, I can coordinate someone to come out and paint over it, but it will be at the cost of the State.”

But as “a couple months” turned into more, employees who were not privy to the internal emails continued to vent their frustration.

“There was an issue of being pushy,” one said. “Have you done anything yet? Have you done anything yet? Eventually you just kind of sit back. Take pictures every so often.”

On Thursday, the CDCR responded to a request for comment in an email from Liz Gransee, a spokesperson for the California Correctional Health Care Services.

“In December 2017, after spray-paint markings appeared in the shared, leased parking lot, California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) staff immediately took action by submitting a request for repair to the property management company of the facility. CCHCS is contractually-obligated to work through the property management company for leased facilities to address concerns and maintenance, which the company did in August 2018.  As part of our ongoing commitment to inclusive, discrimination-free work environments, all Agency managers and supervisors recently conducted visual inspections to ensure that work areas are clean, professional, and maintained consistent with departmental anti-discrimination policies.”

On Aug. 4, 2018, Phelan Development closed the parking lot for a crack repair, a “slurry seal” and “restripe,” according to an internal memo. The markings were cleaned away.

“That [the SS bolts] were allowed to just sit there was mind blowing,” one employee said. “My family, the people I love and care about, are Jewish.”

“If that had been the N-word, there’s no way someone wouldn’t have gone out with spray-paint and covered it up,” they continued. “Maybe it’s just me, but this stuff seems to be becoming more prominent.”

“Whatever I can do to get people to pay attention, I will.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is a J. staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.