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Jail beating case: Jury finds LA deputies liable of excessive force

Jurors on Thursday found L.A. deputies liable for using excessive force against inmates at Men's Central Jail in 2008.
November 7, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
After a five-week trial, seven jurors found 27 Los Angeles County deputies or supervisors liable for using excessive force against inmates at Men's Central Jail in 2008.

During the incident, the deputies ordered inmates to come out of their cells to sweep them for drugs and weapons. Twenty-one inmates refused to come out, so deputies went into their cells and forced them out.

The plaintiffs claimed the deputies beat them and used a Taser on them while they were unconscious. Nineteen inmates had to be hospitalized, suffering everything from seizures to fractured legs, skulls and eye sockets.

The conduct was considered malicious and sadistic, with the intent to injure the inmates.

Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, says several different sheriff's department tapes of the incident were lost or destroyed before the trial.

"There were a bunch of tapes. The evidence was indisputable. They had tapes of most of these cell extractions, yet most of them were missing," said Eliasberg.

Eliasberg says a few tapes were played in court and you could hear the inmates loud and clear.

"They were screaming, 'I give up, I give up.' And they were continuing to be hit, punch, kicked and Tased," said Eliasberg.

The Sheriff's department attorney said during the trial that the inmates are considered the worst of the worst and were ready to fight, so force was necessary. The jury disagreed and found that the deputies violated the inmates' constitutional rights.

The jury awarded the five plaintiffs $740,000 in general damages. They'll decide on punitive damages next week.

It's a huge victory for them and their attorneys.

"We don't live in a country where you allow people to be tortured," said plaintiff's attorney Ron Kaye.

Steve Whitmore, sheriff's department spokesperson, released a statement to Eyewitness News, saying, "This trial is not over. Out of respect for the court, we are going to refrain from commenting until the trial is over. At that time we are going to be more than willing to say exactly what we can say about this trial."

Just a few weeks ago, another jury found Sheriff Lee Baca personally responsible for abuse of an inmate at Men's Central Jail. They said he should pay $100,000 out of his own pocket.

The ACLU says over the last two years, lawsuits against the sheriff's department have already cost taxpayers more than $50 million. There's now a massive federal investigation underway looking at potential misconduct in Los Angeles County jails.

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