Two former inmates filed a federal suit on Monday alleging that a group of Northern California jail guards orchestrated a five-hour "sadistic" attack on nearly two dozen men, some of whom they allegedly beat, forced to wear tiny underwear and left in feces for more than two days, among other claims.
The suit claims between 20 to 25 inmates were “sadistically attacked" on a single day – May 28 – in the male special module of the Sonoma County Main Adult Detention facility in Santa Rosa, California.
The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department "categorically" denied the "outrageous and inflammatory accusations delineated in the complaint" and hinted there might have been some sort of riot situation in process that day, Sgt. Cecile Focha wrote on the department's Facebook page.
The North Bay facility is not the only Bay Area jail accused of deputy abuse. The Santa Clara County Jail and its sheriff have been in the spotlight since the August beating death of Michael Tyree, a mentally ill Santa Clara County inmate, allegedly at the hands of three guards who have been charged with his murder. Two more guards have since been arrested during ongoing investigations, but not necessarily related to Tyree’s death.
As the Sonoma County jail lawsuit claims, the five hours of inmate abuse began at 10:30 a.m. on May 28 with "soap call," where inmate get shower supplies. One of the inmates, Giovanni Montes, was "heavily medicated" and sleeping and didn’t wake up when the guards told him to, the suit alleges.
That escalated into a verbal exchange and Montes getting thrown to the ground, stunned with a Taser, slammed to the floor, and being called a "bitch," the suit claims. Then, deputies allegedly dressed Montes in underwear many sizes too small to humiliate him, slammed his face into an elevator, strapped him into chair and placed a mask over his head, even though he screamed he couldn’t breathe, the suit alleges.
Another inmate, Jesus Lopez, is said to have witnessed what was happening and and screamed that what deputies were doing was wrong, the suit alleges. Six more deputies arrived, handcuffed Lopez and threw him down and grinded his face into the floor, the suit alleges. Deputies took him to yard, and jumped on is back, left him with injured right food and serious abdominal pain.
In its response on Facebook, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department said the allegations of "torture, sadistic actions, and patterns of egregious constitutional violations or human suffering" are unfounded, based on what was in the lawsuit.
"The correctional deputies were responding to the actions of a seemingly coordinated mass disturbance by inmates housed in administrative segregation. The inmates' collective actions interfered with the safe operation of the facility and the security of staff and inmates," Focha wrote in part.
The department couldn't say much more, Focha wrote, because of the pending litigation, but she added: "The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office takes very seriously our obligation to treat all inmates with dignity and respect, and is confident that we will prevail in this lawsuit."
The allegations take up 15 pages, documenting more inmates’ allegations of being punched, stripped naked and in the case of one inmate, covered in his own feces for two days.
In the case of the first plaintiff, Marqus Martinez, whom the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported was in jail on a domestic violence charge, is said in the suit to have a history of anxiety and grew panic-stricken as he heard the violence, alleged screaming from his cell and calling to deputies for help.
Instead, deputies burst into Martinez’ cell and beat him, allegedly forcing him to repeat, "This is our house!" while kicking, punching and kneeing him, the suit said. He was left with an injured and abdominal pain, the suit claims.
The last to be beaten was Banks, the second plaintiff, who lay face down on his mattress with his hands behind his back in a show of submission, the suit said. Still, four deputies kneed and punched him, the suit said.
When Banks, whom the Press Democrat reported was serving time for probation violation, turned to look at the guards, one is accused of spitting in his face and yelling, "That’s right. Get a good look at me you punk bitch. This is our house!" according to the suit.
Schwaiger said Martinez and Banks have since been released from jail and other inmates may be added to the suit as they finish serving their sentences or are freed.
He said federal law prohibits inmates from suing while they are in custody until they have gone through an internal complaint process.
These allegations come after a jail staff video was released in 2015, showing the arrest and subsequent Tasing of inmate Esra Wroth.
In that case, Schwaiger's firm is seeking $3 million in damages, alleging excessive force.
NBC Bay Area's Mark Matthew contributed to this report.
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