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Complaint Alleges Guards Are Beating Inmates in County Jail

District judge is asked to seek an FBI probe into claim that at least 100 have been attacked.

August 01, 2003|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

An attorney who serves as an ombudsman for the Orange County jail system filed a complaint Thursday seeking an FBI investigation into allegations that guards are beating dozens of inmates and preventing them from complaining by cutting off their telephone and mail privileges.

Richard P. Herman, a longtime crusader for inmate rights, alleges in court papers that a gang of racist jail guards called the "psycho crew" has randomly beaten 100 or more inmates in the last few months, leading the prisoners to go on a hunger strike.

In retaliation, Herman says, the guards intercepted mail and took away the hunger strikers' telephone privileges, limiting the means by which the prisoners could communicate grievances to outside parties. Such actions violate terms of a 1978 court order in an overcrowding lawsuit, he says.

Sheriff's officials could not be reached for comment.

Herman filed his complaint as a memorandum in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana. He attached declarations by three inmates concerning the alleged abuse. One wrote that he often "hears screams at night from inmates being beaten," some in a "blind spot" of the jail between the hallway and a vestibule.

Herman is asking for a hearing before U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor, who is overseeing jail conditions under the 25-year-old court order aimed at easing overcrowding. He also wants Taylor to direct the FBI to intervene.

"The brutality in the jail has been an embarrassment of the people of Orange County for the last 30 years. Unfortunately, it's still an embarrassment," Herman said after filing the court papers. "I also think that, unfortunately, it will take a criminal prosecution to finally end the brutality. I would like the judge to refer the matter to the FBI."

Herman's complaint follows a lawsuit filed in March by two former inmates who allege that they were beaten by six guards known as the "untouchables" after one of them demanded toilet paper.

That same month, a jury awarded $177,000 to a former inmate who alleged he was beaten by deputies while in custody three years ago, finding Sheriff Michael S. Carona and the county responsible for failing to adequately supervise and train deputies at the jail.

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