Twenty-one More Inmates File Federal Suits Over Abusive Treatment At West Valley Jail

Twenty-one more current or former inmates at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga have lodged federal lawsuits alleging deputies there engaged in a pattern of sadistic abuse and the administration of summary punishment.
The lawsuits in some measure parallel five lawsuits filed within the last 19 months against the county, the sheriff’s department, sheriff John McMahon and a number of McMahon’s deputies. Two of those lawsuits by six and four current and former inmates respectively at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga were filed on their behalf by attorneys attorneys Stanley Hodge, Jim Terrell and Sharon Brunner in May 2014, the same lawyers who filed the two most recent suits on December 10. In October 2014 American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Melissa Goodman and the law firm Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt filed suit on behalf of another 15 current and former inmates at West Valley, alleging systematic abuse by jailers.
The two latest lawsuits, the third and fourth filed by the team of Hodge, Terrell and Brunner consist of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a single inmate, David Smith, and another lawsuit with 20 other inmates as plaintiffs.
Both lawsuits cite more than 30 defendants, including ones who are fully identified, partially identified or not yet identified, while alleging both abuse by deputies and those deputies’ and their supervisors’ denial of the inmates’ grievance rights, including failure to provide them with grievance forms as well as threatening them with retaliation if they were to persist in their attempts to report the abuse.
Physical abuse ranged from physical beatings to using a Taser gun to torture inmates, sexual battery and the refusal to provide medical care.
In January 2015, Eric Smith, an inmate at West Valley who was given trustee status as a meal server within the jail, filed a lawsuit alleging he was subjected to repeated jolts from Tasers on multiple occasions as well as sleep deprivation and calculated psychological torture.
The collection of lawsuits comes against a backdrop of an external FBI investigation, a grand jury inquiry and an internal sheriff’s department investigation that has already resulted in indications that abuse was ongoing. In March 2014, four sheriff’s department employees working at the jail were witnessed being “walked off” the premises by FBI agents.
At least seven deputies who worked at the West Valley Detention Center – Brock Teyechea, Andrew Cruz and Nicholas Oakley, Robert Escamilla, Russell Kopasz, Robert Morris and Eric Smale – have been fired. Two civilian jailers with the last names of Stockman and Neil were identified in the original lawsuit filed in May 2014 as having participated in the abuse. Their status at the jail is not known. Another deputy alleged to have participated in the abuse is one identified only by the last name of Macias.
Some, though not all, of the plaintiffs were in custody awaiting trial on charges of having engaged in heinous acts, and the lawsuits suggest their jailers may have singled them out for mistreatment. One of those was a Lake Arrowhead man accused of drugging and raping a 17-year-old girl. David Smith, the plaintiff in one of the suits filed on December 10, has been charged with first-degree murder in the 2008 execution-style slayings of a teenage couple in an abandoned Air Force bunker near Barstow. In Smith’s suit, Hodge, Terrell and Brunner maintain that in 2009 Smith was first subjected to unnecessary blasts from a Taser gun, with one deputy alone shocking Smith more than 70 times. According to the suit, in late November or early December 2013, three deputies simultaneously trained their Tasers on Smith, shocking him on both legs and his shoulder, rendering him temporarily paralyzed.
Because of the grand jury proceedings and the ongoing FBI investigation, all seven court cases have been put on hold, pending the outcome of the federal government’s efforts. If an indictment of any sheriff’s department personnel ensues, the legal position of the plaintiffs may be strengthened.
Hodge is a former Superior Court judge as well as a prosecutor with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, where three decades ago he prosecuted cases prepared by the sheriff’s department.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon has said he is committed to rooting out abusive deputies and that aberational incidents are not an indication of a systemic problem within his jails. Rather, he has suggested, California Legislature-mandated prison realignment, which went into effect in 2011, has caused both inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-deputy violence to increase, resulting in a spike in the application of force against inmates.

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