SANTA ANA — Orange County sheriff's officials said Friday that they will investigate claims that a small cadre of jail deputies beat inmates and ordered a prisoner allegedly infected with AIDS and hepatitis to splatter other inmates with human waste.
The claims, filed this week in a federal civil rights lawsuit, include allegations that one inmate was beaten for telling a public defender's investigator that deputies assaulted a man charged with killing two toddlers at a Costa Mesa preschool last May.
Assistant Sheriff Rocky Hewitt called the accusations "baldfaced lies coming on the tail end of the Rampart scandal in Los Angeles." The department's homicide unit, officials said, will nonetheless investigate the claims.
"We take every allegation seriously . . . but a couple of those allegations sound wildly outrageous," said department spokesman Jim Amormino. "I'm sure that when it comes out, those allegations will be unfounded."
The suit, filed Thursday in federal court in Los Angeles, comes as the Orange County Sheriff's Department is reviewing claims that deputies used excessive force while ending a jailhouse protest in November. Sheriff's officials said they had found no wrongdoing by the deputies in that incident.
The Thanksgiving weekend disturbance, which involved 48 inmates and about 30 deputies, was considered one of the most serious at the jail in several years. More than two dozen inmates later sued the county for $5 million, alleging that deputies in riot gear beat them and doused them with pepper spray.
The latest lawsuit addresses alleged activity from October to last month. The most recent accusations involve the protective custody unit of the jail's Intake Release Center in Santa Ana. In separate incidents, the suit claims, deputies beat two inmates in a hallway away from video cameras.
One inmate, Jesse Allred, alleged that his nose was broken, his face badly cut and his knees and back so badly injured that he is unable to walk and needs a wheelchair.
Allred claimed that a dozen deputies beat him after he told a public defender's investigator that he watched jail staff assault fellow inmate Steve Allen Abrams. Abrams is accused of killing two toddlers by plowing his car into the day care center.
The most unusual allegations, however, include complaints that deputies used an inmate to douse others with urine and excrement as a form of intimidation.
The inmate was widely believed to be infected with hepatitis and AIDS, according to the suit. One of the plaintiffs claims that he has since contracted hepatitis.
"It comes down to, at best, forms of intimidation," said attorney Joe Freeman, who filed the suit. "At worst it comes down to . . . a sick game played by half a dozen deputies who enjoy hurting people in their power."
In a recent interview, Assistant Sheriff Hewitt defended his jail staff, saying they enjoy good relations with inmates despite working in one of the most overcrowded jail systems in the country.
Crediting deputies, Hewitt said the jail has one of the nation's lowest inmate suicide rates. He said he has asked the county to fight all claims that the department considers bogus and suggested that deputies who are the target of false claims countersue.