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One California county just paid millions to inmates to settle abuse cases

The county of San Bernardino has agreed to pay more than $2.8 million to current and former West Valley Detention Center inmates to settle abuse allegations. (iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Four current and former inmates in San Bernardino County, California, last week agreed to settle their federal lawsuit that alleges West Valley Detention Center deputies abused them while incarcerated.

Plaintiffs Anthony Gomez, Keith Courtney, Daniel Vargas Jr. and Mario Villa each signed their agreements in mid-to-late July. Gomez and Courtney agreed to $20,000 settlements while Vargas Jr. and Villa agreed to $10,000 each, the San Bernardino Sun reported.

Since June 21, the county has settled eight similar lawsuits involving 40 current and former West Valley inmates. The settlements total more than $2.8 million.

"They [the lawsuits] alleged a pattern of Taser gun torture and other physical abuse by deputies including having their handcuffed wrists yanked up behind their backs, referred to as 'chicken winging,' and violent pat-down searches their attorneys characterized as sodomy," the San Bernardino Sun reported.

Former inmate Donald Love was waiting trial for charges of lewd and lascivious acts with a child and false imprisonment. Three years into jail time, Love had encounters with the deputies where they called the inmate a "pervert" and a "pee pee toucher," the Los Angeles Times reported.

According to Love, he was "chicken winged" two to three times a week. After he was released from prison, he had to have surgery on his rotator cuff, which tore from the abuse.

“These deputies just thought it would be, for whatever reason, humorous or fun for them to torture me, to abuse me, put shotguns to my head,” Love told the Los Angeles Times. “I believe those gentlemen should be in jail.”

The county agreed to settle five lawsuits with 32 plaintiffs on July 11. The settlement amount for that group of lawsuits was $2.5 million.

On June 27, the county agreed to settle with Eric Smith for $175,000. He was one of the first inmates to bring the abuse allegations to light. The county agreed to settle with Armando Marquez for $70,000 on June 21.

The county still has some cases outstanding, such as the case of Cesar Vasquez. He originally filed his lawsuit in August 2014 and his trial date is set for July 10, 2018.

According to the San Bernardino Sun, Vasquez's lawyer subpoenaed the FBI for copies of a video of former rookie deputy Nicholas Oakley tasing the inmate in a utility closet. Another inmate recorded the ordeal on Oakley's celphone.

An internal investigation by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and an FBI investigation into possible civil rights violations are still ongoing.

The Sheriff's Department says the incidents were isolated. As a result of the allegations, deputies Nicholas Oakley, Brock Teyechea, Andrew Cruz, Robert Escamilla, Russell Kopasz, Robert Morris and Eric Smale have been terminated.

According to the Sheriff's Department, an increase in inmate-on-inmate violence and inmate-deputy confrontations is a direct result of prison realignment, which went into effect in October 2011. Under the  new realignment efforts, inmates serving longer prison sentences are being housed in county jails instead of state prisons.

After the initial allegations arose in 2014, the Sheriff's Department has installed more than 250 security cameras throughout the detention center.

One last thing…
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