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Santa Ana Jail-Attack Suit Settled

Crime: Former inmate will get about $95,000 after alleging he was assaulted by swastika-tattooed cellmate.

November 20, 2001|MONTE MORIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city of Santa Ana will pay nearly $100,000 to a white-collar criminal who was beaten and raped by a Nazi-tattooed cellmate just hours after a U.S. District judge had ordered the men separated, officials said Monday.

The out-of-court settlement stems from a Feb. 12 attack on a 32-year-old accountant who was awaiting trial on charges of counterfeiting. A month earlier, the accountant had been placed in the cell of a 270-pound inmate whose body bore many swastika tattoos and a tattoo that said "Hitler," according to a civil claim filed against the city.

The accountant said he endured weeks of harassment and threats before convincing then-U.S. District Judge David O. Carter to order the jail to move him to another cell. But jail officials failed to act promptly, and the accountant was attacked the evening of the court order when the other inmate learned of the man's attempt to move, the accountant alleged in his civil lawsuit.

Following the attack, the supervisor of Santa Ana Jail sent a memo to staffers saying they needed to act more quickly when inmates complain of mistreatment, warning officers that "doing nothing about the situation is unacceptable," according to the claim.

The accountant, who was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison, has been placed in another federal facility. Although the Santa Ana Jail is operated by the city, it houses federal inmates under contract. "Basically, this was a case of jail officials doing too little too late to help this guy," said his lawyer, Kenneth Miller.

Santa Ana City Atty. Joseph W. Fletcher confirmed the city settled the case for about $95,000 but declined to comment further. A spokesman for the Santa Ana Police Department also declined to comment.

Rapes behind bars have received increasing attention from law enforcement officials in the last few years. Until recently, allegations of sexual assault in detention facilities across the nation received what critics considered scant attention, with authorities often writing off the cases as consensual sex.

The accountant's experience began in early January, when he was placed in a cell with a man arrested on federal robbery charges. Here's what happened next, according to the claim filed against the city:

Within a few days, the robbery suspect allegedly began to bully the accountant, ordering him around the cell, stealing his food and forcing him to pay off the cellmate's gambling debts.

By mid-February, the accountant began to fear that his cellmate would harm him physically and passed a note to a guard asking for help. The man wrote the note on a medical request form, hoping that his cellmate wouldn't notice. But the guard confronted both inmates at once, asking what their "problem" was, according to the claim. The accountant denied any trouble, fearing that the cellmate would take revenge, he said.

The next day, the cellmate allegedly pressured the accountant to get a "skinhead-type" haircut. When he refused, according to the claim, the cellmate replied: "You're getting beat up tonight."

The accountant told his attorney of the problems, who convinced Judge Carter to order the man removed to another cell.

That evening, he was placed back in the cell with his cellmate. As soon as he returned, the cellmate allegedly pushed him against the wall and told him that he knew the accountant had "ratted" him out, according to the claim.

The accountant then called his girlfriend and urged her to contact the jail. She did, but was told by a jail officer that the man would not be moved without an order from the U.S. Marshal, according to the claim.

At 11 p.m. the cellmate allegedly approached the man and began punching him in the ribs and chest and sexually assaulted him.

The accountant was removed to another cell the next morning. His attorney, Miller, said the cellmate hasn't been charged with any crime related to the alleged confrontation.

Miller said that within a few days of the incident, jail personnel got an e-mail from jail management stating:

"This is to advise you that any time you receive any type of information in regards to any type of safety issues involving inmates and their housing locations, you need to take immediate action. It is irrelevant who we get the information from, the information needs to be looked into immediately and action taken to correct the situation and prevent any type of hazard to the individual's safety."

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