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Torture Claims at San Bernardino County Jail

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Sixteen inmates claim in court that San Bernardino County Sheriff's officers tortured them with Tasers in the county jail.

Johnny Alcala and 14 others sued San Bernardino County, Sheriff John McMahon and 19 sheriff's officers in one complaint, and David Smith filed similar claims on his own. Both lawsuits were filed on Dec. 10 in Federal Court.

Both claim that sheriff's officers at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga have abused inmates awaiting trial since early 2012.

David Smith, a suspect in a 2008 kidnapping and fatal shooting of a teenage couple at an abandoned Air Force bunker, claims he was tortured with Tasers at the jail for five years. He was moved to another prison after 10 prisoners filed torture claims in two federal lawsuits, the San Bernardino Sun reported in February 2014. An attorney told the Sun that several of his clients already had testified to a grand jury.

The FBI and Sheriff's Department then said they would investigate the center. The first two lawsuits were stayed by a federal judge to await the results of the investigations.

Smith's attorneys did not immediately respond to inquiries about the status of the investigations and the first lawsuits.

Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Cindy Bachman told Courthouse News that she believes both investigations are pending.

"Unfortunately, in this investigation, information cannot be shared," she said in a telephone interview.

Smith claims that torture included "extending inmates handcuffed arms behind them to produce excruciating pain, application of electric shock, including electric shock to the genitals of inmates, intentionally depriving inmates of sleep, sodomy with foreign objects, and/or being subjected to the threat of death when deputies held shotguns against the head of inmates. All these actions were taken without any legitimate purpose."

Smith says defendant sheriff's deputies Macias, Gilbert Escamilla, Morris, Zerpe and Stif?er Tased him repeatedly for "no reason except malice."

He says Escamilla Tasered him in the legs, back and shoulder more than 70 times.

One time, Smith says in his 13-page lawsuit, deputies put him on a chair in the center of a room in the jail. There, "Escamilla stated that Mr. Smith, 'is a veteran so press hard and get the good meat,'" the lawsuit states. "All three of these defendants then simultaneously Tased Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith's entire body was paralyzed due to this triple Tasing incident." In the second Dec. 10 lawsuit, Alcala et al. say that deputies anally probed, beat and Tasered them, and that the sheriff's "code of silence" let them get away with it.

A jailer at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center told on prisoner: "'We won't put our hands on you, like they do in West Valley,'" according to Alcala's complaint.

Sheriff McMahon told the Sun that the abuse, if it happened, was due to a few rogue jailers.

The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for deprivations of human rights.

Defendants include San Bernardino County, West Valley Commander Jeff Rose, and Sheriff McMahon.

Named defendants Brock Teyechea, Andrew Cruz and Nicholas Oakley and another unknown employee have been fired, according to the complaints. The Sun reported that three of the fired deputies were rookies.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Bachmann told Courthouse News that employees have been placed on administrative leave.

Plaintiffs in both cases are represented by Stanley Hodge of Victorville.

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