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Watchdog report: Suit alleges jail brutality

Sacramento sheriff's office accused of allowing pattern of abuse by deputies

By Dorothy Korber and Christina Jewett -- Bee Staff Writers

Published 2:15 am PST Sunday, October 30, 2005

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Jafar Afshar sustained a head injury after being flipped onto the jail's hard floor by a deputy after his public-intoxication arrest on June 7, 2003.

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Graphic videotapes from the Sacramento County jail - one depicting an inmate lying in a pool of blood after his head hit the floor - are exhibits in a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that excessive force is sanctioned and an ongoing practice within the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.

The videos, filed in federal court in Sacramento last week and obtained by The Bee, are from the jail's own surveillance cameras. They were subpoenaed by attorneys for plaintiff Jafar Afshar, a mortgage broker who received the head injury after being arrested for public intoxication on June 7, 2003.

Two other incidents videotaped in the downtown Sacramento jail - both involving men arrested for drunkenness - also are exhibits in the lawsuit.

One shows construction worker Mihaita Constantin, whose nose and arm were broken by deputies after he was "taken down" in July 2003 for standing instead of sitting in the jail's drunk tank, according to a report written by Deputy Timothy Pai, one of five guards who struggled with Constantin.

The third depicts a college student, Michael Hay, whose forearm was fractured in December 2000, when Deputy Santos Ramos twisted it because Hay was not following directions quickly enough, according to Ramos' deposition.

It is not clear from the tape why Afshar is pulled backward to the floor by Deputy Brett Spaid. In an incident report written shortly afterward, Spaid said Afshar swung toward him while handing over his sock during a weapon search.

Making inmates comply with deputies' orders is important to maintaining discipline in the county jail, Undersheriff John McGinness said in an interview Friday. McGinness is second in command under Sheriff Lou Blanas and has announced that he will run in 2006 to succeed Blanas.

After viewing a copy of the video provided by The Bee, McGinness said he could not comment specifically on the tapes since they are part of pending litigation, but he would talk generally about the realities of jail.

"Disruptive behavior can become infectious," McGinness said. "It can get out of control and start a riot."

The department's legal adviser, Lt. Scott Jones, also was present at the viewing and said, "What I saw in each case was definite resistance (by the inmates), in varying degrees."

Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams, who watched the videotapes earlier, said she was sickened by the violence they depict. Williams said her organization is a clearinghouse for citizens' complaints of police brutality from all races, including - as in these three cases - whites.

"If what the deputies did inside the jail was done in street clothes outside, there would be felony charges," she said. "But because it was done within the protective walls of the Sheriff's Department, they got a slap on the hand."

No deputies involved in the incidents were fired, the Sheriff's Department said. The department would not let the deputies speak to The Bee, and the five deputies called at home did not return calls or would not comment.

Records show that Hay was turned loose about 10 hours after his arm was broken, the charges against him dropped and his broken arm untreated. Afshar, whose scalp was sutured shut at Sutter General Hospital, also was released with no criminal charges. Afshar angrily declined comment on Friday, saying he fears that publicizing the lawsuit endangers his safety.

Hay later sued the Sheriff's Department, alleging police brutality, and obtained a settlement of $147,500 in 2002. He has since left the area, his attorney said, and could not be located.

After the jailhouse skirmish, Constantin was charged with resisting arrest and battery on law enforcement officers - a case later dismissed. He pleaded no contest to the charge that brought him to the jail: driving under the influence. He died last year in a car crash that was ruled a suicide.

A law enforcement expert cited in Afshar's lawsuit said that all three videotaped incidents show excessive force by deputies and demonstrate a pattern of using pain for punishment. The expert, retired sheriff's Lt. Timothy Twomey, is a 30-year veteran with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department who teaches college classes in custody procedure and helped design the Sacramento jail.

Twomey's review of the three cases, according to a declaration filed with the court, led him "to the inescapable conclusion that excessive force is sanctioned and deemed by unwritten policy to be acceptable and a pattern and practice with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department."

"Such conduct breeds other incidents of excessive force," Twomey wrote.

McGinness noted in the interview that deputies are authorized to use force when necessary. "It is imperative that officers maintain control in the interest of protecting the safety of the inmates, the staff and the public who are being protected from the inmates," he said.

The Sheriff's Department did not conduct internal investigations in either the Afshar or Constantin cases, though both injured men were transported to the hospital for emergency care.

An internal investigation was conducted after Hay filed a formal citizen's complaint with the Sheriff's Department. The deputies involved in the injury were reprimanded - not for breaking Hay's arm but for failing to report his injury, according to court documents.

Gary Gorski, Afshar's attorney, said in an interview last week that he intends to use this response to create a foundation for showing that the jail's unwritten policy condones excessive force.

"In their internal affairs investigation, they determined the use of force on Hay was correct - and that establishes this behavior as standard operating procedure in the jail," Gorski said.

The video footage shows the dramatic conclusion of events that started rather mundanely: A neighbor's complaint of loud music. An intoxicated man stumbling down the street after a night on the town. And a drunk driver pulled over by the California Highway Patrol.

The video and documents in the Afshar lawsuit describe what happened next in each case:

The first incident began late on Dec. 22, 2000, when Deputy Rebecca Eubanks went to the apartment of Michael P. Hay to tell him to turn down his music. Hay had been drinking with friends at his apartment near California State University, Sacramento, where he was a student.

Hay, then 21 and apparently drunk, told her that he would keep the noise down and added, "You know, you're kind of cute," according to his own statement.

Eubanks left, but within minutes Deputy Robert Book showed up at the apartment door. Book told investigators that Hay was belligerent and interfered with his finding out what was going on, "so I handcuffed him and walked him downstairs."

He and Eubanks arrested Hay on charges of being drunk in public. In the video, Hay keeps questioning his arrest, puzzled because he was inside his apartment, not in public.

The sheriff's own investigation indicates Hay had reason for confusion. A disciplinary letter to Deputy Book states: "At no time during your contact with Michael H. was he in 'public,' within the meaning of the statute. Therefore your arrest of Michael H. was without legal authority."

On the tape Hay jokes with a nurse who interviews him in the intake area. The nurse is heard telling him: "They like to hurt people around here," though it's not clear whether she is referring to deputies or other inmates.

Deputy Eubanks stands near her prisoner, at times talking to an unidentified male deputy. That officer turns his back to Hay and appears to make a shadow-boxing motion - a gesture expert witness Twomey said suggests that "Mr. Hay's immediate future is going to involve some sort of force."

Eubanks walks Hay to the jail's pat-down area. There he is searched by Deputy Ramos, who is wearing a Santa Claus hat.

Ramos told internal affairs investigators that Hay was intoxicated and not following directions, "so Deputy (Charles) Meeks and I proceeded to place him in twist-lock control holds." On the tape, the deputies twist both of Hay's arms behind his back.

Ramos said he heard a "popping sound," as he twisted Hay's right arm. He later told investigators he hears the sound in 60 to 70 percent of those he puts in a twist lock, but this pop was "louder."

Twomey, however, said he'd never heard such a sound in his three decades with the department.

He also wrote that the "twist lock" is a control move properly used on one arm to make someone turn in response to pain, allowing an officer to regain control. But he said he had never witnessed two twist locks being used - a maneuver the lawsuit alleges is "torture."

Hay was released later that morning, with no charges filed.

He filed an excessive force claim with the Sheriff's Department within a month. Although department policy is to start an internal affairs investigation and mete out any punishment within 90 days, the Hay case was not resolved for more than a year.

In the end, Eubanks was reprimanded for calling Book on her cell phone nine minutes after being interviewed by internal affairs. And Ramos and Deputy Tom McCue were counseled for failing to report the "popping" sound, according to the sheriff's report on the investigation.

Two years later, Jafar Afshar sat in the same seat that Hay had occupied, being interviewed by another nurse in the intake area of the jail.

After leaving the Tunel 21 nightclub in Old Sacramento, Afshar was arrested early that June morning for alleged public intoxication by two Sacramento police officers.

Afshar, then 37, served four years in the Marines, including active duty during Operation Desert Storm, according to Gorski, his lawyer. "If he had wanted to fight the deputies, they would have had their hands full," Gorski said.

In the jail video - which, unlike Hay's, has no sound - Afshar seems relaxed and the jail staff appears comfortable around him, Twomey stated in his declaration. "It is obvious that at no time did (Afshar) pose a threat requiring that he be taken down to the floor."

But Deputy Brett Spaid testified, in a court deposition filed by Gorski, that Afshar was "combative," mumbled something about Columbine and threatened to kill Spaid's family. Spaid said he did not take the threats seriously.

On the tape, Afshar is shown obeying Spaid's order to remove his shoes. Suddenly, Spaid grabs Afshar by the collar, Afshar's body shoots up and back and flips onto the hard floor.

The fall, Twomey said, caused Afshar "to smash his head, (as deputies) spun him onto his stomach and twisted both of his arms toward his shoulders."

On a scale of one to 10 for hardness, Twomey described the jail floor as a 10 and "not effective as a safety measure as it is a very hard material."

Afshar, who acknowledged in his deposition that he doesn't recall much from that night, testified that he heard someone say, "Where is your God now?" before he was knocked to the floor.

After deputies rushed Afshar away to the hospital, the video shows a pool of blood the size of a serving platter on the jail floor. He was released the next morning, all charges dropped. A year later, he filed his lawsuit.

A month after Afshar's encounter with the deputies, Mihaita Constantin also found himself in the Sacramento County jail. Constantin, then a 33-year-old immigrant from Romania, was arrested July 14, 2003, for drunk driving. His blood alcohol was more than triple the legal limit.

The video clip shows Constantin standing by the door in the jail's "sobering tank." Other inmates are seated around the perimeter of the cell.

In Deputy Timothy Pai's report of the incident, he said a deputy identified only as "Deputy Mason," badge no. 461, told Constantin to remain seated in the cell, to which Constantin said, "No." According to this account, when Constantin refused to sit a second time, he was grabbed by the shirt and placed on the floor.

Within seconds, the video shows, four more deputies rush into the cell as Constantin writhes and struggles on the floor. Other guards follow, apparently directing other inmates not to watch.

Noting that the deputies arrived within seconds, Twomey said: "It is glaringly apparent these other deputies were stacked by the door to enter the tank quickly, making it certain they knew they were going to get physically involved, which shows premeditation."

In the fracas, Constantin sustained a broken hand, fractured nose and his face was left swollen and bruised. Taken to an isolation cell, he is seen in another video handcuffed to a floor grate, bleeding and breathing hard.

Deputies' reports stated that Constantin had punched one deputy and bit another, who then hit the inmate twice in the right eye to release the bite. The deputies said they were not injured and required no medical treatment.

Constantin, who spent 48 hours in jail, was charged with two counts of battery on an officer and resisting arrest. One battery count was dismissed the day before his trial in April 2004, at which time a judge acquitted him of the rest. He got three years' probation for driving drunk.

On June 29, 2004, Constantin filed his own federal civil rights lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department. But last May 14, Placer County deputies found his body in a car crashed on a mountain slope near Blue Canyon. The coroner ruled his death a suicide. His widow has returned to Europe but is pursuing the lawsuit.

In the Afshar suit, attorneys for the Sheriff's Department have filed a motion asking U. S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton to reach a summary judgment in their favor. Their motion argues that the department has written policies on appropriate use of force - and points out that Afshar's own recollections of the incident are vague.

On Nov. 7, Karlton is scheduled to consider that motion, along with a counter motion by Afshar's attorneys asking for a summary judgment in his favor. The jail videotapes and other documents were filed in support of that counter motion.

Afshar's case currently is scheduled for trial in May in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and requests a court order prohibiting "further excessive force" at the jail and monitoring by outside consultants.


VIDEOS

Quicktime video player
Jafar Afshar
Michael P. Hay
Mihaita Constantin

RealPlayer
Jafar Afshar
Michael P. Hay
Mihaita Constantin

COURT PAPERS

Expert declaration on use of force - Declaration of Timothy Twomey, expert witness in the case of Jafar Afshar, filed Oct. 24. [PDF]

Amended lawsuit against sheriff's department - Suit filed Oct. 24 by attorneys Gary W. Gorski and Daniel M. Karalash with "Demand for a Jury Trial" in the case of Jafar Afshar. [PDF]

Facts in favor of sheriff's department - Attorneys for the Sheriff's Department on Sept. 26 asked the court for a summary judgment in the department's favor in the case of Jafar Afshar. [PDF]


A LOOK AT THE CASES

Three alleged instances of abuse by deputies at the Sacramento County jail, with images from court documents:

Jafar Afshar

Age: 37
Booking charges: public intoxication
Injury: split scalp
Internal investigation: none
Deputy involved: Brett Spaid

Michael P. Hay

Age: 21
Booking charges: public intoxication
Injury: broken arm
Internal investigation: Conducted
Deputies involved: Rebecca Eubanks - reprimand for talking about internal affairs investigation, plus proposed 40-hour suspension without pay; Robert Book - proposed 20-hour suspension for arresting Hay in his apartment on charges of public intoxication; Santos Ramos - counseling for not reporting injury; Tom McCue - counseling for not reporting injury

Mihaita Constantin

Age: 33
Booking charges: driving under the influence
Injury: fractured nose and hand, contusion to eye and lip, various cuts
Internal investigation: none
Deputies involved: Timothy Pai; five others identified by last name, badge number: Mason, 461; Parker, 1377; Morck, 1318, and De la Cruz, 1034

About the writer:

Mihaita Constantin suffered a broken hand, fractured nose and his face was left swollen and bruised after an arrest for alleged drunk driving on July 14, 2003.

Jafar Afshar

Michael P. Hay

Mihaita Constantin


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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Suit alleges jail brutality: Sacramento sheriff's office accused of allowing pattern of abuse by deputies

Videos

Quicktime versions

Jafar Afshar

Michael P. Hay

Mihaita Constantin

Quicktime video player


RealPlayer versions

Jafar Afshar

Michael P. Hay

Mihaita Constantin

RealPlayer


Court papers

Expert declaration on use of force - Declaration of Timothy Twomey, expert witness in the case of Jafar Afshar, filed Oct. 24. [PDF]

Amended lawsuit against sheriff's department - Suit filed Oct. 24 by attorneys Gary W. Gorski and Daniel M. Karalash with "Demand for a Jury Trial" in the case of Jafar Afshar. [PDF]

Facts in favor of sheriff's department - Attorneys for the Sheriff's Department on Sept. 26 asked the court for a summary judgment in the department's favor in the case of Jafar Afshar. [PDF]

Follow-up coverage:

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

FBI opening probe of jail

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Panel seeks jail task force

video Watch video released by Sheriff's Department

audio Listen to Undersheriff John McGinness say the information in Bee article is "erroneous" (:42)

audio Listen to McGinness say abuse allegations should be taken in context (1:17)

audio Listen to McGinness discuss the Branden Johnson incident (4:50)

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Excess-force sheriff's cases cost $3.9 million

Friday, November 4, 2005

Abuse claims without merit, sheriff says

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Deputy may be added to suit

Friday, November 18, 2005

Sheriff vows action if jail abuse is found

audio Listen to Betty Williams of the NAACP speak at vigil (1:10)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

New steps taken at jail

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Review may reach to jail

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Questions persist over jail health care

Sacramento County - Main Jail inspection report, Feb. 22, 2002 [PDF]

Pre-accreditation review of Sacramento County Adult Detention Facilities, Feb. 19-21, 2003 [PDF]

Sacramento County - Main Jail inspection report, Dec. 5, 2003 [PDF]

Letter from Dr. Neil Flynn regarding inmate Jackie Zachary, Feb. 12, 2004 [PDF]

Board of Corrections inspection of Sacramento Sheriff's Department detention facilities, July 8, 2004 [PDF]

Transcript related to State of California vs. Anthony Jose Gonzales, Dec. 6, 2004 [PDF]

Transcript related to U.S. vs. Jesse Sanders, Jr., Oct. 5, 2005 [PDF]

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Jail health care gets close look from feds

January 14, 2006
Sheriff's official: Error wasn't Bee's

January 15, 2006
Jail clash raises new questions

January 21, 2006
Editorial: A mistake - and more

January 26, 2006
Wide-ranging audit of jail is proposed

February 1, 2006
Sheriff changes course

February 23, 2006
First look at sheriff audit

February 28, 2006
Sheriff should not oversee jail, new group says

March 1, 2006
Audit of sheriff missing input, groups say

March 5, 2006
Main Jail is first duty for deputies

March 15, 2006
New suit alleging jail abuse seeks class-action status

March 24, 2006
Main Jail's videos are crucial in brutality suits

March 29, 2006
Jail: Blanas remains part of suit

April 1, 2006
County jail inmate hangs self in cell

May 4, 2006
Blanas no longer part of jail suit

June 9, 2006
Report on jail ruckus issued

June 10, 2006
Fallout spreads in DA jail report

June 16, 2006
Audit urges check on jail

June 21, 2006
Supervisors OK plan for jail monitor

July 1, 2006
Jury assails jail's health care

July 7, 2006
Citing crisis, jail nurses call for more hires

July 8, 2006
Main Jail restricting use of stun grenades

July 12, 2006
County agrees to pay in youth strip-searches

Opinion:

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Editorial: A jail in crisis

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Editorial: Suggested reading

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Editorial: Disappearing act

Rex Babin editorial cartoon

Monday, November 7, 2005

Editorial: Quiz time at the jail

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Editorial: Sheriff needs independent oversight

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Editorial: Jail health care



Contact the staff

Reporter Dorothy Korber:
E-mail dkorber@sacbee.com or call her at 916-321-1061

Reporter Christina Jewett:
E-mail cjewett@sacbee.com or call her at 916-321-1201

 
 

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