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Ex-Inmate Says Tape Shows Jail Brutality

September 30, 1987|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

A former Orange County Jail inmate who alleges that he was beaten by deputies in the booking area two years ago is using jail videotapes of the incident in his lawsuit against the county.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyers said Tuesday that may explain why three other inmates alleging similar assaults say they occurred in jail elevators--where there are no video cameras. Lawsuits have also been filed in those incidents.

An excerpt of a 2-year-old videotape released to The Times on Tuesday by Lawrence Joseph Eaves, 45, of Dana Point shows a deputy pulling Eaves away from metal bars and then him striking the concrete floor of a holding cell. Whether the inmate was thrown to the floor by the deputy is in dispute.

Eaves' attorney, Kevin M. McDermott of Santa Ana, said the tape also shows--contrary to a written report by the deputy--that Eaves, who was in handcuffs, did not provoke the incident.

But John L. Oskins Jr., the county's risk-management director, said: "I don't think the tape shows what he thinks it does."

Oskins said last week in a taped TV interview that the deputy "did not do anything illegal or incorrect."

Calls for Change

McDermott said the tape provides evidence that "the jail needs to change its procedures on how it handles the people who come in there."

American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Dick Herman said Tuesday that he believes Eaves' case may have been the reason that recent assaults that deputies have been accused of occurred, according to the inmates in the cases, in elevators at the jail.

"It's pretty obvious that the deputies don't want the cameras to show them beating the inmates," Herman said. "Something has to be done. What's going on in that jail is just getting completely out of hand."

Eaves was taken to the UC Irvine Medical Center immediately after the incident. He said he had a broken nose and a split lip.

Sheriff Brad Gates' spokesman, Lt. Richard J. Olson, referred inquiries Tuesday to Oskins' office. Olson did say that Eaves did not file a complaint with the sheriff about his treatment at the jail.

Eaves did, however, file a claim with the Board of Supervisors, a legal step that precedes a lawsuit.

"Joe (Eaves) is a private kind of guy, and he would have walked away from this whole thing if he could have received just an apology from somebody--got somebody to say, 'Hey, we're sorry what happened,' " McDermott said.

"But nobody would do that. Instead, the county says its guys didn't do anything wrong."

Eaves, a self-employed handyman, was arrested April 30, 1985, on charges of making false emergency calls against a neighbor on the 911 telephone line.

He was taken to Orange County Jail for booking. McDermott concedes that Eaves was drunk.

One jail report states that Eaves was so drunk that he fell against a phone booth and cut himself. Although the cut was minor, the report says, the jail nurse refused to allow him to be booked before treatment, and Eaves was taken to the UC Irvine Medical Center. The report says he was returned to jail after he refused to accept treatment at the hospital.

He was then taken to a holding cell for uncuffing--part of the normal booking process. He was in his underwear, according to the jail report, because he refused to put on his pants and shoes when arrested.

Videotape cameras monitor the holding cell 24 hours a day.

The videotape from that night--a series of camera frames that are somewhat blurry and make movements appear jerky--show Eaves in his underwear, his hands cuffed in front of him, standing near the bars, facing the deputies.

The deputies, identified as James Bauman and Mark Hiller, tried to get Eaves to turn around and face the bars. Hiller stated in a separate written report that Eaves cursed them and refused. The county said the tape released Tuesday leaves room for dispute.

The deputies then turned Eaves to face the bars. The tape shows Eaves resisting the officers' efforts to pull him away from the bars, until Hiller finally pulls him away and Eaves strikes the floor.

Hiller's report said Eaves "turned around and made an attempt to lunge towards me."

McDermott said the tape does not show any such move and does show Hiller throwing Eaves to the floor.

Eaves finally pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing false emergency reports and paid a $150 fine.

"There is no question that he did wrong and that he was drunk," McDermott said. "But that doesn't give the jailers any right to give him or anyone else treatment like that."

County Rejected Claim

The lawsuit was filed March 19, 1986, after the county refused Eaves' claim.

McDermott said he sent dozens of letters to various county officials "asking them to please, please not let that videotape be erased."

In May, in response to a request from Eaves' attorneys for evidence they intended to use in the lawsuit, the county turned over copies of the videotapes from three cameras monitoring the holding cell.

One of the videotapes has a five-minute segment missing, which Oskins said was erased by accident when a copy was being made for McDermott. But McDermott likened it to the 13-minute gap on a White House tape during the Watergate scandal.

Best Angle Lost

"We don't know what happened to it, but that was the best camera angle to show what happened," McDermott said.

Jail officials have defended their actions regarding inmate civil rights in federal court.

Two weeks ago, Sheriff's Department Sgt. J.D. Green testified before U.S. District Judge William P. Gray that jail officials did not tolerate inmate abuse by deputies. Sporadic incidents do occur, Green said, but he added that Gates' staff deals with them swiftly.

McDermott, however, said neither deputy involved in restraining Eaves has been disciplined. McDermott said he will seek a court order next week to obtain Hiller's and Bauman's records to see if they contain such complaints.

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