Jailhouse justice - Page 2

A group of sheriff's deputies is accused in civil court of beating jail inmates

But no such equivalent exists for the Sheriff's Department, which, in addition to managing jails, also provides security for City Hall and San Francisco's criminal and civil courts.

Candell argues that something similar should be created for the Sheriff's Department. Even though allegations of institutional shortcomings (such as flawed training and oversight) have been removed from the case, Candell hopes a large monetary award paid by the city's taxpayers would prompt local lawmakers to demand greater oversight.

The suit originally charged the city and Hennessey with medical negligence and wider-ranging inmate abuse resulting from a lack of proper training for deputies. But those allegations were dismissed by Judge Vaughn Walker, who held in part that the city and Hennessey were not deliberately indifferent toward inmate grievances.

"We already know there are a bunch of allegations in this case that did not rise to a legal standing," Hennessey told the Guardian. "I believe that's how the case will resolve itself ultimately as well."

Nonetheless, allegations by four of the six original plaintiffs, all targeting a deputy named Miguel Prado, appear likely to go to trial after brief settlement negotiations between the City Attorney's Office and Candell deteriorated. Two other deputies, Glenn Young and Larry Napata, are also defendants in excessive-force claims made by Henderson.

Mack Woodfox alleges that in October 2005, he had an argument with Prado over a breakfast tray he was trying to give to another inmate. The two exchanged words, and Woodfox alleges the deputy removed him from the cell, took him down the hall to a different area, and punched his head and banged it into the floor.

Two days later Woodfox lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital, where doctors found he had a broken nose and broken blood vessels in his eye. Candell said the District Attorney's Office is investigating the alleged attack on Woodfox and could bring assault charges against Prado, but a representative in the office contacted by the Guardian would neither confirm nor deny that such an investigation was taking place.

Several inmates filed declarations stating they had either seen or heard Prado attack other inmates, and two claimed Prado and other deputies beat them last year. One testified he was told by Prado to clean the cell in which Henderson's alleged attack occurred. "There were pools of blood on the floor and a smeared bloody handprint on the wall," the inmate stated.

Michael Perez claims that in July 2004, Prado punched and kicked him after they argued over whether Perez could stay behind in a gym at the end of an exercise period to look for a screw missing from his eyeglasses. Arturo Pleitez alleges that in November 2004, Prado punched him several times, stripped off his clothes, and dunked his head in a toilet. In both instances, the city argues that the inmates assaulted Prado first, and Perez was even charged with battery and resisting arrest, but those allegations were eventually dismissed.

Messages left for deputies Napata, Young, and Prado seeking comment were not returned.

Hennessey told the Guardian that force is sometimes needed to subdue defiant inmates who threaten or attack other inmates and deputies. He told the court in a declaration that "rare" instances of excessive force do occur at the jails, and when they happen, he doesn't hesitate to discipline or fire the deputies involved if necessary.

"It's a difficult environment to work in.... Two-thirds or more of the people in that jail have been to state prison before," Hennessey said, referring to San Francisco's Bryant Street jail. "Most of them are going to state prison when their time in San Francisco is done.

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