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Orange County

Family of Dead Inmate Seeks New Investigation

Jail: Widow, two children want prosecutors to reopen criminal probe. Legal claim was settled for record sum last week.

June 18, 2002|JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The family of an Orange County Jail inmate whose death in 1998 resulted in a record legal settlement called on local and state prosecutors Monday to reopen a criminal probe into allegations that the man was beaten to death by sheriff's deputies.

In a letter to local and state prosecutors, a lawyer for Gilbert Garcia's widow and two children said there was little doubt that, while the man was in jail, his civil rights were violated and the force used by deputies caused his death.

A district attorney's spokeswoman said the office, which initially cleared the deputies of wrongdoing, is willing to review any new evidence in the case.

Garcia's family contended in a lawsuit that deputies beat the inmate shortly after he entered jail on May 30, 1998. Coroner's officials said Garcia suffered a fractured skull, three broken ribs and cuts and bruises.

The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday voted 4 to 1 to settle the legal claim for $650,000. The award was the county's largest in a jail brutality case.

Nevertheless, sheriff's officials deny any wrongdoing and point to a district attorney's investigation that concluded Garcia was injured before he entered the jail.

According to police reports, a Garden Grove officer who arrested Garcia told a district attorney's investigator that Garcia had blood on his hands and was holding his head as if in pain at the time of the arrest.

The officer speculated that Garcia hit his head while climbing over a fence.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who voted against settling the case, called the allegations against the jail deputies "outrageous." He argued that the county might be legally liable only because jail staff failed to notice Garcia's head injury.

"He had already sustained a head injury prior to coming into our jail," Spitzer said. "We are responsible for his medical care, and there may have been a failure to triage him properly."

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