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O.C. Sheriff, County Lose Suit Alleging Jail Abuse

March 28, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona and the county must pay a $177,000 civil court verdict awarded to a former jail inmate who alleged he was beaten by deputies while in custody three years ago, a judge ruled Thursday.

Robert N. Carter, the plaintiff in the civil rights lawsuit, said he had mixed feelings about the decision, because the 10 deputies accused of violating his rights were found not culpable. "I'm glad that it was in my favor, but I'm disappointed that the deputies who actually beat me and abused me are not held accountable for it," Carter said.

On Wednesday, a jury decided that the county must pay $77,000 in damages, and Carona must pay $100,000 in punitive damages for failing to adequately supervise and train the deputies at the jail.

Superior Court Judge Richard J. Beacom on Thursday upheld the jury's decision and ruled that a jury could clear the deputies and still hold Carona and the county responsible for the allegations.

"We believe this was a legally flawed verdict,'' said Jon Fleischman, spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "The jury already determined that there was no culpability on any part of our deputies."

The Sheriff's Department plans to appeal the decision, he said. Carter's attorneys said the department likely would be responsible for paying for any judgment against Carona.

Carter's suit accused deputies of beating him on several occasions after he was incarcerated at the Central Men's Jail in Santa Ana on Feb. 16, 2000, on charges of possessing a cocaine pipe and violating his parole.

He said that after he complained about receiving inadequate medical treatment for a heart problem, deputies taunted him, made racial slurs and doused him with pepper spray. Carter is black.

On Feb. 24, 2000, Carter said, deputies began taunting him and yelling racial slurs. The deputies forced him to lie on his stomach, handcuffed him, grabbed his legs and punched him in the groin area and jaw, Carter said.

According to the lawsuit, he was taken to an isolation cell for four hours without medical attention before he was hospitalized.

Sheriff's officials investigated the incident and determined that the deputies acted within department policies and that their actions were reasonable. The officials would not comment further.

The jury forewoman said the panel did not find the deputies accountable for the alleged abuses because they were inadequately trained.

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