NorCal Jail Likened to a Torture Factory


     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California’s Sonoma County jail echoed for hours with “screams, cries of pain, and the sound of inmates begging the deputies to stop,” as sheriff’s officers “systematically and sadistically” attacked more than 20 inmates for five hours, two men claim in Federal Court.
     Marqus Martinez and Daniel Banks claim in the Oct. 5 lawsuit that the violence began began when inmate Giovanni Montes slept through a shower call because he was on heavy medication. In addition to the county, they sued Sheriff Steve Freitas, sheriff’s Lt. Mazen Awad and sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Galloway.
     The men say the violence began at around 10:15 a.m. on May 28 during “soap call,” when inmates get soap and other necessities from jailers.
     “Inmates may miss soap call for various reasons, including sleeping,” the complaint states. “In such a case, the sleeping inmate receives no supplies.”
     Deputy Panek – who is named in the lawsuit, but not as a defendant – made a ruckus when Montes did not wake up, and “(t)he noise of the disturbance alerted other inmates who witnessed the following events.”
     Panek radioed for assistance, and Montes was handcuffed, thrown to the ground and beaten, Martinez says.
     Three more deputies arrived, dressed in black and wearing ski masks. They Tasered Montes, kicked him in the head, then dragged him to the shower, ordered him to strip and told him he was their “bitch,” and “began another round of savage beatings,” while he was “naked and defenseless,” the complaint states.
     They dressed Montes in underwear “many sizes too small in order to humiliate him,” dragged him back to his cell and returned several times to beat him again in succeeding hours, finally strapping him into a chair with a mask over his head to restrict his breathing and throwing him into a padded room, according to the complaint.
     Inmate Jesus Lopez, who saw the assaults, yelled at the officers to stop, so they beat the hell out of him too, according to the lawsuit: smashing his face into the ground and jumping on his back as he lay handcuffed on the ground, while shouting, “Stop resisting!”
     The officers beat Lopez “to the point of involuntary defecation,” then “locked him naked in isolation covered in his own feces for two days,” then wouldn’t let him take a shower for four more days, according to the complaint.
     In response to these brutal beatings, plaintiff Martinez, who has a documented history of severe anxiety, suffered a panic attack.
     Rather than provide him with medical treatment, the officers handcuffed and beat him, injuring his leg so badly that it could no longer bear weight. They then left him on the floor without medical assistance, and “for two more hours he listened to screams of pain and torture from the other inmates as jail staff proceeded down the tier, removing each individual from his cell and subjecting him to similar beatings,” the complaint states.
     Plaintiff Banks says he received a similar beating even though he lay face down on his mattress with his hands behind his back when the officers entered his cell, hoping the “show of submission” would keep him from being beaten.
     When Banks filed an administrative grievance about the beating, he says, the defendants justified the use of force in a response that said, “The actions of the deputies on that day were merely a response to your immediate defiance and inciting behavior as well as your inability to follow simple instructions.”
     The men’s attorney, Izaak Schwaiger, said in a telephone interview that the allegations are “unique in their scope but not in their nature.”
     “These are the kinds of allegations that we’ve heard about before, and continue to hear about,” he said. “If there are other people who have information about these kinds of events, we want to know about it.
     “We believe this is a pattern and practice of excessive and unlawful force, and what we have been hearing is people saying, ‘No one believes me.’ It’s time for people to be believed.”
     County officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
     Martinez and Banks seek injunctive relief and punitive damages for constitutional violations, including excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, deliberate indifference, and supervisory liability.
     Schwaiger, of Santa Rosa, is assisted by John Scott in San Francisco.

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