Dozens of files released to a Northern California newspaper show allegations of abuse by Sacramento County deputies in jails, including beatings, misuse of pepper spray, an illegal body cavity search and efforts to avoid being caught on video surveillance, the newspaper reported.
The 79 files released to the Sacramento Bee by a federal magistrate judge also show recommendations for deputies to be disciplined or fired, though no deputies accused in the documents of abusing inmates at Sacramento County’s main jail and at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove were fired.
Among the most serious cases of alleged abuse is that of Patrick Hoyt, who was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence warrant on Dec. 1, 2015. Within hours, he said, he was escorted by two deputies into an area of the main jail without camera coverage, where one of them twisted his arm and shoved his face into a brick wall so hard he ended up with a swollen black eye.
A week after his release, Hoyt said, a man in a suit showed up at his door and gave him a $1,000 check in exchange for agreeing not to talk about what happened inside the jail. The claim was paid by the county’s third-party claims adjuster and Hoyt signed an agreement releasing the county from all future claims, the sheriff’s office said.
The internal affairs and jail-abuse case files from 2012 through 2018 were first released by Sheriff Scott Jones’ office to civil rights attorney Mark Merin as part of a case. He was required to return or destroy them once his case ended, but Merin later objected to giving up the documents, and The Bee intervened in federal court. In October, a federal judge lifted the order and released hundreds of pages to The Bee.
Merin said the documents show “abuse is rampant and people who commit it are undisciplined, so there’s no discouragement to excessive force and the result is that people are injured and many people sue.”
Sheriff Jones disputed the notion that abuse is rampant. He said with 40,000 inmate bookings annually, some suspects are going to act out and that the use of force is sometimes necessary.
“You have to understand the jail is not like the community, or it’s not like a normal community that you and I might think of or most normal, going-to-work, tax-paying folks might think of,” Jones said in an interview with The Bee.
Department policy requires that all use of force by deputies, injuries or complaints of pain from inmates be documented. Internal affairs investigators review each instance through jail video recordings and interviews with deputies and inmates.
Two of the deputies in the Hoyt case were recommended for termination, but the sheriff later rejected that in favor of suspensions. Other penalties related to the incidents in the documents ranged from a letter of discipline to suspensions without pay.
“Obviously, we have to meet force with force many times,” Jones said. “We don’t have the luxury of underestimating the amount of force it’s going to take to immediately quell a situation.”
In Hoyt’s case, the internal affairs investigation said other inmates “could hear his screams” after deputies took him to an area not covered by video cameras, then later lied to investigators.
Jones said he settled on lengthy suspensions for the deputies rather than terminating them.
“There’s an accountability to the public, of course, but can these employees be salvaged? If they were given a chance do I believe that they would conduct themselves in a manner that we expect?” Jones said.
That file also reveals that one of the deputies was accused six months after the Hoyt incident of again using excessive force against inmate Roshawn Jackson.
In that case, the deputy was accused of using a “leg sweep” to suddenly knock Jackson, who was handcuffed, to the floor.
Investigators deemed it an unnecessary use of force “as there was no evidence presented or observed that indicated Jackson was an immediate threat or actively resisting other than the failure to follow the immediate directive to go to his knees.”