The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to pay $2.8 million to a former jail inmate who was severely beaten after other inmates learned he was an accused child molester -- the most the county has paid to resolve a lawsuit involving a jail attack.
Attorneys for Jose Beas, 41, had contended that sheriff's employees endangered the married father of three by placing him in a dormitory with 80 general population inmates instead of isolating him as department policy required.
Beas, of South Los Angeles, was a machinist and part-time soccer referee who volunteered at his children's school. He was arrested in December 2003 and charged with molesting a 5-year-old girl that his wife was baby-sitting.
The charges against him were dismissed because of the extent of his injuries, court records show. Beas had denied molesting the girl, saying he playfully patted her bottom with an open hand. He had no prior criminal history, his lawyers said.
Because child molestation suspects are often targeted for violence while in jail, the Sheriff's Department for several years has housed them apart from the rest of the jail population.
In a suit he filed against the county in 2005, Beas contended that the department failed to segregate him even after one jail employee requested that Beas be moved to protective custody.
Sheriff Lee Baca said his department had taken many steps in recent years to improve security in the jails, including isolating members of a Latino gang from other inmates.
But ensuring the safety of all inmates is difficult, he said. The department processes nearly 200,000 inmates a year and is responsible for moving thousands each day to and from court, the exercise yard and medical visits.
"We can't match a deputy with every prisoner we send down the hallway to exercise, to their attorney, to visit their family," Baca said. "At any one time, we have no more than 1,000 people watching 18,000 people. I can't walk them with a deputy side by side everywhere they go."
The Board of Supervisors' unanimous decision to pay Beas $2.8 million brings the total compensation paid to inmates injured in custody to more than $9 million since 2004. Among those cases were incidents in which inmates were attacked or killed by others they had testified against in court, killed by gang members considered higher security risks and attacked after guards left them unsupervised for long periods.
Since 2000, 14 inmates have been killed while in custody in Los Angeles County jails and hundreds more have been injured, many seriously.
After Beas' arrest three years ago, he was booked into Men's Central Jail to await trial. He was assigned to a dormitory, where he was assaulted Dec. 13, 2003. Sheriff's deputies did not witness the assault. Alerted by another inmate, they found Beas on the floor of the dormitory, unconscious in a pool of blood.
Beas had sustained a serious brain injury and spent months in a semi-vegetative state, lapsing in and out of consciousness. He remains bedridden, unable to walk or talk.
His lawyers said he will need round-the-clock care for the rest of his life. He communicates by moaning or grunting.
In the suit, Beas' lawyers said a jailer requested that Beas be moved out of the dormitory Dec. 12, 2003 -- the day before the attack -- because he had been charged with child molestation.
The department has not explained why Beas remained in the general population. His attorneys said they were prepared to prove at trial that he was attacked because other inmates learned about the charges against him.
Sheriff's officials have disciplined dozens of deputies and other employees for lapses in supervision that have contributed to jail violence.
The discipline has been reduced on appeal in many instances, including one case in which a deputy left a dormitory unsupervised because her shift had ended and her replacement had not arrived.
In that case, an inmate was beaten during the 20 minutes the dormitory was unsupervised. Anthony Fernandez sustained a severe brain injury in that assault. Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors approved a $750,000 settlement in that case.
The deputy who left the dormitory unattended was initially demoted but appealed to her supervisor and got her previous job back, with a 30-day suspension.
No deputies were disciplined in the Beas case because sheriff's officials did not learn of mistakes allegedly made until after a one-year deadline to impose discipline had lapsed.
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L.A. County inmate settlements
Los Angeles County has spent more than $9 million since 2004 to resolve lawsuits filed by families of inmates killed or injured in violence in the county jails. Some significant cases:
Name: Jose Beas
Details: Severe brain injury. Beaten by inmates at Men's Central Jail,
Dec. 13, 2003.
Name: Raul Tinajero
Details: Killed in cell at Men's Central Jail by inmate he'd testified against,
April 20, 2004.
Name: Ki Hong
Details: Killed in dorm by inmate workers at Men's Central Jail, Oct. 21, 2003.
Name: Anthony Fernandez
Details: Severe brain injury. Beaten by inmates at Pitchess Detention Center-North, May 24, 2004.
Name: Ahmad Burwell
Details: Severe brain injury. Beaten by inmates at North County Correctional Facility, April 1, 2000.
Source: Times reporting