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Jail-Rape Victim Awarded $1 Million

Courts: Man who had been held for failing to pay child support was assaulted hours after he was ordered released.

November 22, 2001|HECTOR BECERRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles County jury has awarded $1 million to a man who was kept beyond his court-ordered date of release and was subsequently beaten and raped in jail.

Jay Reynolds, 39, was attacked in March 1999 about eight hours after a judge ordered his release. Two inmates were convicted for the rape and assault and sent to state prison. Reynolds was arrested March 8 when a traffic stop revealed he was wanted in South Dakota after falling a year behind in child-support payments.

The county will appeal the verdict, which was returned Tuesday, said Louis Aguilar, chief of litigation for the county counsel.

"This assault was a tragic event, but we don't feel the county is liable in an instance like this. There was no advance notice or indication that he might be in any form of danger."

On March 17, Reynolds's release was ordered around 11:30 a.m. after South Dakota authorities decided against extradition. Reynolds was returned to Los Angeles County Jail, and later that night inmates beat and sodomized him. After the assault, Reynolds said, the inmates threatened him and ordered him to give them his address. They also forced him to write a confession saying that whatever happened in the cell was voluntary, he said.

"They said, 'If we find out that the information you gave us is wrong, we're gonna kill you,' " the Ontario restaurant cook said Wednesday. "This took a part of me, a part of my soul. . . . They say this happens all the time. That makes me so angry, to shrug it off like it's just part of life."

Earlier this year, chronic detention of inmates past their release orders cost the county $27 million in settlements in a class-action lawsuit.

The Sheriff's Department has said it is now releasing inmates directly at the courthouse, Aguilar said.

But at the time of Reynolds' assault, the paperwork for releasing inmates was done by hand, which slowed the process, Aguilar said.

"As far as being overdetained, we don't believe this was the cause of his injuries," Aguilar said. "He had been housed in that cell for several days prior and nothing happened to him. We had no indication that he may not be as safe as in previous days. . . . This was a very violent assault. It generated a lot of sympathy on the part of the jurors. It was a sympathy verdict."

In Reynolds' case, his release papers were completed around 7:40 a.m. on March 18. After getting the attention of deputies, Reynolds said, he was handcuffed and taken to County-USC Medical Center for a rape examination.

"What the county did was wrong," said Dennis Elber, Reynolds' attorney. "Jay never should have had to go through that rape. Or the process afterward. . . . It was the sheriff's policy to treat released inmates the same as lawfully detained inmates."

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