Grand Jury Report Offers No Mention Of Jail Abuse Allegations

(July 2) The 2013-14 San Bernardino County Civil Grand Jury, while taking up the subject of conditions inside the detention facilities run by the county sheriff, made no mention of the circumstances or activities relating to the alleged abuse of inmates that led to an FBI investigation of the West Valley Detention Center or the filing of a federal lawsuit alleging abusive and sadistic treatment by jailors there.
In its final report, the 2013-14 San Bernardino County Grand Jury characterized relations between sheriff’s department employees who work the jails and those imprisoned there as “good” and made a finding that the five largest detention facilities run by Sheriff John McMahon and his department are operated within the parameters of the California Code of Regulations applicable to adult detention facilities.
Between August of last year and March of this year, members of the grand jury paid pre-announced visits to those five facilities – the Central Detention Center in San Bernardino, Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore, the Victorville jail, the High Desert Detention Center in Adelanto and West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.
The analysis of the conditions at all five of the jails ran through a gamut of criteria, including staffing, capacity and crowding, meals and nutrition, health of the inmates and medical care, programs available to the inmates including mental health services and both telephonic and written communication opportunities, visiting and educational opportunities, policy manual availability, the physical conditions and aesthetics of the buildings both outwardly and internally as well as the conditions of individual cells and the personal appearance and hygiene of the inmates themselves.
The five facilities passed this test with flying colors, according to the report.
Moreover, the report gave no indication of jailor-on-inmate violence and stated that a grievance procedure was in place throughout the sheriff’s department’s detention system and was working well.
According to the report the “inmates [are] oriented to rules and procedures, rules and grievance procedures [are] posted [and the] rules and grievance procedures [are] understood by inmates.” Furthermore, procedures for handling complaints are in place, according to the grand jury.
The report further characterized all grievances lodged by inmates at all of the detention facilities including West Valley as “minor.”
That, however, clashes with the allegations contained in a lawsuit filed in federal court in May by attorneys Stan Hodge, Jim Terrell and Sharon Bruner on behalf of inmates John Hanson, Lamar Graves, Brandon Schilling, Michael Mesa, Christopher Sly and Eddie Caldera alleging they were physically and psychologically tortured by deputies from January 1, 2013 through March of this year. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were submitted to abuse and torture that included being shocked with Taser guns, having shotguns held to their heads, being rectally invaded during unreasonably aggressive pat down searches, and having their arms pulled up behind their backs while handcuffed.
According to the lawsuit, this treatment was inflicted upon Hanson, Graves, Schilling, Mesa, Sly and Caldera by deputies Robert Escamilla, Robert Morris, Russell Kopasz, Daniel Stryffeler, Eric Smale, Brock Teyechea, Andrew Cruz, Nicholas Oakley and civilian custody specialist Brandon Stockman, all of whom are named in the suit. Also named are sheriff John McMahon and captain Jeff Rose, who was the commander at the West Valley Detention Center.
In March, three deputies – Teyechea, Cruz, and Oakley, each of whom had been with the sheriff’s department for less than a year, were ignominiously fired after FBI agents descended on West Valley and subjected staff there to a series of interrogations.
The action taken against Teyechea, Cruz and Oakley, together with statements emanating from the FBI that its investigation into abuse of inmates in San Bernardino County remains ongoing is widely seen as an indication that there is some substance to the allegations in the lawsuit.
One of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case is Stan Hodge, a former San Bernardino County Superior Court judge who before that was a prosecutor in the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
The timing of the grand jury report declaring relations between deputies working the jails and inmates as “good” has been questioned, as has been the thoroughness of the report. Of issue in the county’s legal challenging of the lawsuit’s validity is the suggestion that the plaintiffs did not, as is required under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, first exhaust available administrative remedies by pursuing to completion whatever inmate grievance and/or appeal procedures their prison custodians provide.
The grand jury report, in its reference to the grievance procedure at the county’s jails, asserts that all “inmate grievances/complaints [were] reviewed by staff and answered.”
At West Valley, the grand jury report states, the “impression of staff/inmate interactions [is] good.”
In what was perhaps a concession to the accusations of brutality at West Valley that broke into public view with the filing of the lawsuit, the grand jury report does have a more in depth analysis of incarcerated population “incidents” at the West Valley Detention Center than at the other four facilities. The report notes that between September 2012 to September 2013 there had been one suicide at West Valley Detention Center, 20 unsuccessful attempted suicides at the facility, four natural deaths, one murder, 366 inmate-on-inmate assaults, and 41 assaults on staff. The grand jury report nevertheless states, “After examining all completed reports, the grand jury discovered that each and every incident was handled appropriately according to policy and procedure.”
Rosalio Hinojos was the foreman of the 2013-14 Grand Jury and was a member of two past grand juries, including the 2012-13 Grand Jury which delivered a report critical of the sheriff’s department’s employment of its Taser stun guns and policies relating to those devices.
He defended the grand jury report.
“You have to remember that there were only certain sections of the jails we dealt with,” he said. “We just did a cursory inspection. We checked the infirmary. We checked to see if the inmates were fed properly and clothed properly, if they were getting the health care they need. We checked the medical facilities and the general conditions of the jails. We looked at some incident reports to see how incidents were handled and how they followed through on them. We completed all of our inspections by March. The reports you are talking about came out, I believe, in April, at which time we were done with our inspections. We did not interview inmates. We just looked at the conditions of the jails, basically health factors, safety factors, things of that nature, like when they last performed a fire drill, how many beds they have, the number of inmates, whether they have adequate staffing, items like that. I am aware that the attorney for one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that was filed said we should have talked to the inmates, or their family members or the FBI. That is nothing we can go about and do on our own. We can’t arbitrarily call people in on something like that unless we have a specific complaint.”
A personal accusation against Hinojos was raised by critics of the grand jury report who suggested the grand jury had been used to cover for the sheriff’s department. They pointed out that Rosalio Hinojos has a family member employed by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and it was suggested that he had used his authority as the grand jury foreman to rein in the grand jury to prevent it from exploring issues that would have complicated or compromised the county’s ability to defend itself in the lawsuit.
Steve Hinojos, a sergeant with the sheriff’s department, is an up and coming member of McMahon’s staff, who oversees security at the Victorville Courthouse. He is also Rosalio Hinojos’s nephew.
“Yes, he is my nephew,” Rosalio Hinojos said of Steve Hinojos. He insisted that relationship had no impact on the investigation carried out by the grand jury and the report it filed.
“As the foreman, I was there to oversee the procedures and to make sure everything was carried out properly,” Hinojos said. “As foreman, I did not participate in any of the inspections of the jails. I did not go on any of the visits to the jails. I did not participate because of my nephew being stationed at the courthouse in Victorville, so I especially did not go on that investigation or inspection there.”
Hinojos noted that the previous grand jury impaneled for 2012-13, of which he was a member, had taken up the sheriff’s department’s use of Tasers and that he had likewise not participated at that time in its examination of the sheriff’s department because of his nephew’s position with the department.
Hinojos said things had improved all over the county and that the new reality was reflected in the grand jury report. “I think what made me happy is the county departments generally are working a lot harder,” Hinojos said. “They are more efficient and are really doing a good job. We visited a lot of county departments. Those departments are working good and spending money the way they should. We were pretty impressed with the county and the folks who work there. There was nothing we could write about as far as improvements went and we finally decided to go back and revisit the grand jury reports and recommendations made in past. We wanted to see how they were implementing what was in those reports. We wanted to make sure the county doesn’t put them up on a shelf someplace. That was meant to ensure that they will implement the recommendations of future grand juries.”
Hinojos said that “As far as the jails go, they were operating as they should.”
The sheriff’s department, which last year contested the grand jury’s findings with regard to the department’s Taser use policy, immediately seized upon the 2013-2014 Grand Jury Final Report to assert that its deputies were humanely treating prisoners at its detention facilities. Within three hours of the public release of the grand jury report, the department put out a statement attributed to McMahon that “These recommendations are the end product of many hours of serious study, and offer thoughtful suggestions for our department. We are thankful for the insights provided by the grand jury, and we will consider the implementation of their recommendations.”

Leave a Reply