Sonoma County to Pay $1.7 Million in Jail Inmate Abuse Settlement

Sonoma County agreed to pay a $1.7 million settlement Monday to 20 inmates who filed a federal lawsuit three years ago charging that jail deputies subjected them to “heinous and inexplicable beatings,” officials said.

In response, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office will implement the use of body-worn cameras for all sworn corrections officers and will install cameras in common areas of the jail, Sheriff Robert Giordano said.

“It’s a better way to document what’s happening and be more transparent to the public,” he said. “We made some mistakes three years ago.”

In addition to implementing the use of surveillance and body-worn cameras, Giordano said, the department also received retraining a year and a half ago in use-of-force tactics.

The complaint — filed in October 2015 in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco — alleged that deputies donned black ski masks and clothing when they violently beat inmates.

Civil rights lawyer Izaak Schwaiger, who filed the lawsuit, previously said he’d received letters from inmates with stories of abuse that unfolded in a May 28, 2015, incident when inmate Giovanni Montes was badly beaten.

“Deputies dressed in all black wearing ski masks dragged Montes to the shower, ordered him to strip naked and told the inmate he was their ‘bitch,’” the suit said. “They grabbed Montes and threw him to the ground, handcuffed him, then slammed his head into the floor, striking several rapid and violent blows about his head, shoulders, neck and back.”

Another inmate, Jesus Lopez, was beaten “to the point of involuntary defecation,” the suit alleged.

“Covered in his own feces, Lopez pleaded for toilet paper. The deputies ignored his pleas, laughed at him, and locked him naked in isolation covered in his own feces for two days,” according to the complaint.

Daniel Banks alleged that four deputies barged into his cell while he was lying on his mattress and began beating him.

“The four deputies jumped on top of him and began kneeing and punching him in the back and wrenching his arms above his head, causing him excruciating pain,” the suit said.

At one point, Banks turned to face the deputies and one of them allegedly yelled, “That’s right — get a good look at me, you punk bitch — this is our house!” before spitting in his face, according to the suit.

Giordano said he reviewed video footage of the incident and “wasn’t happy with it.”

“In this particular case, some of the things we did weren’t acceptable,” he said.

Steve Freitas was the sheriff of Sonoma County at the time of these incidents, and several of his deputies were named in the suit. After holding the county’s job of top cop for two terms, Freitas retired in July 2017, citing health concerns. He recommended Giordano, an assistant sheriff at the time, to take over his post.

Giordano, who pledged not to run in this year’s election, is expected to serve out the rest of Freitas’ term, ending Jan. 7, 2019.

On Monday, the appointed sheriff noted that retraining since the lawsuit was filed has helped deputies better handle a “difficult population” since Proposition 47 passed in 2014. The ballot initiative reduced some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, moving thousands of people out of state prisons to county jails.

“We have some sophisticated and higher-level inmates than we’ve ever had,” Giordano said. “And what we do is we remove them from the environment where the bad behavior is happening, at their cell or the room they’re in, away from the other inmates and talk to them alone, privately, about our expectations of their behavior.

“We made the changes to make this right for this community.”


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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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