Holding up pictures and holding back tears, the families of three men who died in custody held a news conference Wednesday morning in front of City Hall announcing that they intend to file civil rights lawsuits against the Oxnard Police Department and the Ventura County Sheriff's Department.
In the first step in the lawsuit process, the families entered their claims against the city of Oxnard and against the county Wednesday. The city and the county each has 30 days to respond to the claims, but attorneys for the families expect the claims will be rejected and they will have to file the lawsuits in January in a Los Angeles federal court.
"We're not here to destroy the Oxnard Police Department, we're here to work with them," said Oxnard attorney Samuel Heredia. "But we want them to know that they are accountable for their actions."
Heredia was flanked by Los Angeles-based civil rights attorneys Sam Paz and Sonia Mercado and members of the dead men's families. The men--Luther Thomas Allen, Fernando Herrera Jr. and Raul Madera--all died in a four-month period.
Allen, 55, died Oct. 1 after falling unconscious in an Oxnard Police Department holding cell. Allen had been arrested after an accident on suspicion of driving under the influence. He had refused medical treatment at the scene of the accident, but according to a coroner's report died two hours later from internal injuries he sustained in the accident.
Herrera, 25, died July 18 while being held on the ground by several police officers during an arrest. Herrera's heart stopped while several officers were holding him down with his hands cuffed behind his back, according to the coroner.
The third man, 23-year-old Madera, was being held at the Ventura County Jail when he fell ill. Madera died July 9 from septic shock due to acute tonsillitis shortly after being taken from the county jail to the Ventura County Medical Center, according to the coroner.
Both the Police Department and the Ventura County Sheriff's Department conducted internal investigations into the deaths and concluded that there was no wrongdoing by the departments or their officers.
Attorney Paz questioned the impartiality of those investigations. Paz pointed to a separate case regarding the death of 40-year-old Ray Lee Carter, who died May 6 after being doused with pepper spray and restrained by officers, saying there seemed to be a pattern of abuse that should by looked at by the U.S. attorney's office.
Ventura attorney Ernest Bell is representing Carter's family in that case, which was filed in a Los Angeles federal court earlier this fall.