Judge says witnesses, evidence disagree in inmate beating case

The investigation concluded that five prison guards pinned down, kicked and stomped a handcuffed inmate so violently that one nearby onlooker wept, closed her eyes and began to pray.

By Jon Ortiz

A second woman watched the officers beat the handcuffed African American male, according to a heavily redacted judicial narrative obtained by The Bee, and said it reminded her of the infamous Rodney King incident.

The crying woman didn’t respond, but a third observer agreed: “They’re kicking the s— out of him,” she said.

But a judge said there was no beating on that June morning two years ago at Susanville‘s High Desert State Prison.

The state board that referees contested terminations earlier this year agreed and ordered reinstatement for the five officers. The back pay, benefits and interest will come to about $1 million, their union estimates.

Now the California Correctional Peace Officers Association wants the investigators investigated.

Last month, the union asked the State Personnel Board to consider action against the three internal affairs employees who handled the case. The investigators’ names, like the names of all involved in the matter, are not public record.

Union leaders have multiple questions:

Why were eyewitnesses the judge referred to as “the Three Women” at the heart of the investigation allowed to commiserate over what they saw? Why did investigators ignore physical evidence exonerating the officers? Why didn’t they talk to eyewitnesses or consider some accounts – including statements from the prisoner himself – saying there was no beating?

The case highlights what the union claims is regularly slipshod work by the department’s internal investigative unit and those overseeing it.

“This isn’t an isolated case of a botched investigation,” said Chuck Alexander, the union’s executive vice president. “But this one is particularly egregious, and no one’s been held accountable for it.”

A Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman defended the investigation and declined to comment on the union’s request to file charges against the investigators.

“We are now considering our options for further appeal,” spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said.

The 33-page decision by Teri Block, an administrative law judge who hears termination-dispute cases for the State Personnel Board, includes a rare glimpse into how the state investigates cases of inmate abuse. Her narrative is built on investigative records and testimony from a hearing conducted last fall:

On the morning of June 29, 2011, two officers were walking the inmate for a doctor-ordered psychiatric evaluation after the man threatened to harm prison staff members and himself.

The inmate, who weighed 120 pounds and stood 5-foot-7, was handcuffed behind his back with a guard on each arm. As they approached a secured area for vehicle transports, the inmate pulled his left arm away and turned toward one of the officers, who immediately shouted, “Get down!”

Those two words triggered a “Code 1” alarm. Within seconds, other correctional officers, managers and medical staff members ran to assist, the court narrative said.

The escorting officers took the inmate to the ground, face down, in keeping with their training.

One “placed his arm on the (inmate’s) neck and shoulder area, and maintained control of the inmate’s arm,” according to Block’s description of events. The other pinned down the inmate’s legs and feet with both hands.

Two other officers arrived about 10 seconds after the Code 1. One “placed his knee swiftly and firmly on the right side of the inmate’s mid-back,” according to the court narrative, and the other did the same on the inmate’s left side, “consistent with CDCR use-of-physical-force training.”

The fifth officer arrived and stood near the left torso of the inmate, who briefly struggled. But with four officers restraining him, he gave up. He complained that he couldn’t breathe, according to the court record, so two officers adjusted their positions to give him relief.

Within 90 seconds, 15 to 20 medical staff members, correctional officers, a lieutenant and a captain were there. An officer fetched leg restraints.

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2 thoughts on “Judge says witnesses, evidence disagree in inmate beating case

  1. There is no justice anywhere in America. Police and the court systems own the people, to do every bad thing, they can thank of, to them.This happens everyday in jails/prisons, all across the U.S.


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