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Orange County

Inmate Says Guards Beat Him Again

A second lawsuit alleges another act out of the cameras' view at county jail and says brutality is met with official indifference.

August 10, 2004|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Orange County jail officials have shown an indifference to violence against inmates by deputies, who call themselves "psycho crew" and "the untouchables," according to an inmate who is suing a second time alleging that he was beaten.

Daniel Louis Parra, 36, who is awaiting trial for murder, states that in both incidents he was pulled out of a food line, taken down a stairwell out of the view of video cameras and beaten.

Both incidents were investigated by jail officials, who found no evidence of wrongdoing by jail personnel, said Jon Fleishman, a sheriff's spokesman.

Fleishman also denied the existence of a so-called "psycho crew" or a group called "the untouchables."

"We are used to colorful descriptions being attributed to our deputies by plaintiff's attorneys who seem to want to eye the deep pockets of the county," he said.

Parra was treated for injuries to his neck, head, face, eyes and arms after the alleged attacks, his attorney said.

He and other defense attorneys said the county jail system provides prime grounds for any young deputy to mix it up with inmates. Citing anecdotal evidence, they say jail beatings have increased.

Parra's lawsuits allege that jail beatings are a problem at the county's jail facilities. Tolerating the abuses has been a "custom, policy and practice" at the facilities for years, the lawsuits state.

During the last five years, 67 inmates have filed 31 claims that guards beat them, according to the county's risk management office.

Richard P. Herman, an Orange County attorney who has long been involved with jail-related cases, said he receives two or three phone calls a week from inmates or their relatives with accounts of brutality by county guards.

"The code of silence here is absolutely strong," Herman said. "Every day there is physical abuse against inmates in the [central] county jail and also at the other [county] facilities."

Herman noted a 2001 report commissioned by the Sheriff's Department that found the number of use-of-force incidents by jail deputies low but also said they are fostered by a culture in which deputies quickly turn to violence to control inmate behavior.

Herman, the attorney in a landmark 1978 court order that limits overcrowding in the county's jails, said the sheriff's top command has grown less interested in the issue of jailhouse violence.

In the past, Herman said, he and other defense attorneys dealt with captains and assistant sheriffs on jail brutality cases. That's now handled by lieutenants, said Herman.

A federal class-action lawsuit alleging civil rights violations against dozens of county inmates, which Herman has filed, is expected to go to trial in December.

For many new deputies, jail service is an introduction to people on trial for murder, theft and rape, said Bob MacLeod, spokesman for the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. "Inmates are streetwise and con-wise," MacLeod said.

Parra alleges that the first beating occurred Oct. 1, 2002, at the hands of Mark Allen Zwirner and other deputies.

Zwirner has been a deputy since 1999, according to department records. New hires are typically assigned to the jail for their first five years, said Fleishman.

In his initial lawsuit, filed Oct. 1, 2003, Parra said Zwirner took him out of the food line, down a stairwell and into a nook unseen by video cameras.

There, Parra says, Zwirner and other deputies threw him against a wall, punched him and twisted his left arm back, then dragged him to an escalator and threw him into a holding cell.

In Parra's second lawsuit, filed July 1, he states that on June 17, 2003, he was again pulled out of the food line by Zwirner and taken to a similar area not covered by cameras, where Zwirner badly beat him.

Both lawsuits accuse the department of depriving Parra of his civil rights, conspiracy to interfere with civil rights, and assault, battery and negligence.

"These attacks were done without provocation," said Parra's attorney, Kent M. Henderson, who begins trial on another inmate's brutality case Monday.

Parra has been moved to Theo Lacy Branch Jail in Orange, Henderson said, for an unspecified reason.

Parra, who operated a Bellflower exotic-dancing business, and one of his employees, Elizabeth Nava, 26, of Irvine, are awaiting trial in the 2001 bludgeoning death of Charles Ray George, 54, of San Clemente, who investigators said was the dancer's customer.

"We're very emphatic that there is not a culture of abuse against people in our jail," Fleishman said. "Our department conducts investigations of every complaint that is made. Our investigation was very clear when it found that no wrongdoing took place."

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