c) Testimony of Teofista Domínguez Riveros, mother of Sergio David Poletti Domínguez, deceased former inmate at the Center
The witness is a nurse’s aide and has six children. She was the mother of Sergio David Poletti Domínguez, who was about to turn 16. One day the police called in her son to be present for an “inquiry” at the police station. From there he was taken directly to the Center, where he remained from March 1999 to February 11, 2000, when the fire occurred. Her son was incarcerated without ever having been convicted of anything, and was innocent. He had a private attorney who defended him prior to his death and even after.
Sergio David was an “office boy” for the National Post Office in Asunción. He was a good boy. Every time he was paid, he brought his sister gifts, because she was the one who did his washing. After having been such a good boy, the correctional center turned him into “a brute.”
On February 11, 2000 she turned on the television before going to work and the first thing she saw was the fire at the Center. She went directly there, and was told that her son was at the Burns Center.
When she arrived at the Burns Center, no mothers had been let in; but she managed to get in because she was dressed in her nursing whites and no one knew that she was Sergio David’s mother. There were a number of boys in one room; around six young people were in another smaller room, and it was there that she found her son. He did not have oxygen, “he had nothing […], he was begging for something for the pain,” as were all the others. The “boys were vomiting ashes” and were all asking for water. She thought all her son’s teeth had been burned, so that she checked his mouth. It was black, so she cleaned it. No one asked her who she was because they assumed she was a volunteer. She asked one doctor how her son was doing, but no one told her anything. She began speaking with all the boys, or they spoke to her.
Sergio David was conscious until a few hours before he died. She was able to speak with him. One guard entered the room where the wounded were and one inmate said to him: “Get out! What do you want now? Maybe you want to kill us all here? You didn’t get the job done there, so you’ve come to kill us here.” She spoke to the boy in Guaraní and told him that the guard wasn’t to blame, and asked him why he had treated him that way. Her son and six other boys in the room who were conscious told her that the fire was caused by a prison guard who spilled something and it caught fire. They also told her that they had begged for help, pleaded for them to open the gate; the guards just kept saying: “Shut up, stop yelling or we’ll shoot you!” Her son told her that the inmates didn’t have water inside their cellblock as the water valve had been shut.
Sergio David died two days after the fire. When her son died, the witness retrieved his body and buried him. A brother-in-law who works at the Ministry of Justice and Labor bought the coffin; her family paid the other expenses.
From the time her son was incarcerated in the Center, she lost her entire family, since Sergio David needed attention. She no longer had friends or friendships, because she devoted all her time to Sergio. Everyone in the family suffered; they grieved at the time he was detained and are still grieving today. They have still not managed to recover everything they lost with Sergio, from the time of his detention to the time of his death; for that reason, she cannot hire a professional to treat her other children and does not have the means to send them to university.
The Center was not a very large place, yet it housed over 600 youngsters. The food was “inedible,” which was why the witness brought her son food and money to pay a guard to treat him “a little better.” The Center was not a correctional institution; it was a place that kept the inmates “like animals.” The cell was approximately two meters and held over thirty youngsters. The inmates were inside all day and were only let out for breakfast, lunch and supper. Visitors to the Center were patted down and undressed to see if they were carrying anything with them. When she went to visit her son, they always told her that he had been punished, that he didn’t get along with the guard or that he was on his way to the punishment room. Concerning the punishments, her son told her that there were “times that even the best behaved [was] punished; the guards h[ung] the stronger inmates upside down for hours, [with] the head down and the feet up in the air, hanging by the legs.” When the inmates got out of there, their dizziness caused them to stumble and hurt themselves. That treatment, the witness said, was inhumane.
Sergio suffered pains in his head, back and around his waistline; she always brought him some medication. Her son once caught scabies. No physician ever treated him; she was his doctor. They warned her that she was not allowed to bring in much medication.
Because of his situation and because she realized that her son “was no longer a normal boy,” the witness hired a private psychologist for him. The psychologist visited him at the Center three times a week for a four-month period, until his death.
She filed a civil suit against the State that is closed “until other people are able to get the case moving.”
She did not ask the Court for anything for her deceased son; she asked the Court to do something for her surviving children, because they have been badly affected, as has she; nothing can relieve the pain that the loss of a child causes. She also asked the Court to help those who were abused and who were burned in the fire at the Center. She asked that the Paraguayan justice system be impartial, humane, and treat “everyone as equals.”
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