S.F. deputies' inmate beatings lawsuit goes to trial

San Francisco Sheriff’s Department deputies allegedly beat inmates they were guarding at the County Jail, breaking one prisoner’s nose and another’s back, according to two federal civil-rights lawsuits filed in 2005.

The lawsuits will go to trial this summer after lawyers failed to come to a resolution at a hearing Friday, plaintiff’s attorney Scot Candell said Tuesday. Allegations of a “pattern and practice” of excessive force were dismissed earlier this year, but civil lawsuits by four inmates remain against eight individual deputies.

The lawsuits were originally filed in 2005, after plaintiffs felt their complaints against deputies were being ignored, Candell said Tuesday.

Unlike the San Francisco Police Department, there is no independent civilian office that investigates citizens’ complaints against the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. Originally, the two lawsuits asked the federal Ninth District court to order The City to create a body such as the Office of Citizens’ Complaints to deal with the Sheriff’s Department.

Because the allegations of wide-ranging abuse were thrown out, the court will have no authority over city policy, but Candell said he hopes the individual lawsuits will garner enough attention to spur lawmakers into the creation of such a body.

The alleged abuses violated the inmates’ rights to liberty, he said.

“These are all people who are pre-trial detainees, which means they haven’t been convicted of anything yet. If they had the money, they’d post bail. They have a right to be safe. It’s the job of the deputies and the job of The City to keep them safe and to protect them,” Candell said.

But because the allegations of wide-ranging abuse were dropped from the lawsuit, City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s spokesman Matt Dorsey said a potentially major case had been “all but gutted.”

“The lion’s share of those claims were dismissed,” Dorsey said. “There are four remaining plaintiffs with allegations against individual deputies, but we remain very confident of The City’s legal position.” He said the allegations were meritless.

The remaining claims allege deputies, including a 13-year veteran, engaged in excessively violent uses of force. One claim, by plaintiff Mack Woodfox, alleges that the veteran punched him and beat his head against the ground after Woodfox did not want to take the breakfast brought to him.

In another case, a plaintiff alleges he was hog-tied, kicked and beaten after asking for an extension cord to watch television. The victim lost consciousness, and suffered a broken back and internal bleeding, according to the complaint.

Sheriff Department’s spokeswoman Eileen Hirst said inmates have ample opportunities to file complaints with the department’s Internal Affairs Division, which investigates allegations of misconduct. They can file complaints by telephone, mail or in person through a member of the department’s staff.

“We try to make it as easy as possible for people to contact ISU,” Hirst said.

amartin@examiner.com


Do you believe the inmates' claims of abuse?

Share your comments below.

Bay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Lowell High School is considered an academically elite public school. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Students denounce ‘rampant, unchecked racism’ at Lowell after slurs flood anti-racism lesson

A lesson on anti-racism at Lowell High School on Wednesday was bombarded… Continue reading

Scooter companies have expanded their distribution in neighborhoods such as the Richmond and Sunset districts. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFMTA board signs off on changes to scooter permit program

Companies will gete longer permits, but higher stakes

A health care worker receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images/TNS)
City sets ambitious goal to vaccinate residents by June

Limited supply slows distribution of doses as health officials seek to expand access

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden arrive at Biden's inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021, in Washington, DC.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)
Joe Biden issues call for ‘unity’ amidst extreme partisan rancor

‘I will be a president for all Americans,’ he says in inauguration speech

MARIETTA, GA - NOVEMBER 15: Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff (R) and Raphael Warnock (L) of Georgia taps elbows during a rally for supporters on November 15, 2020 in Marietta, Georgia. Both become senators Wednesday.  (Jenny Jarvie/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Vice President Harris swears in senators Padilla, Warnock, Ossoff

New Democratic senators tip balance of power in upper legislative house

Most Read