Wednesday, July 2, 2014
San Bernardino County Grand Jury gives jails a clean bill of health
July 1, 2014
San Bernardino Sun
By Joe Nelson
The San Bernardino County Civil Grand Jury, in its annual report released Tuesday, gave county jails a clean bill of health and characterized relations between staff and inmates as “good,” despite allegations of inmate abuse by deputies at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga that has so far resulted in the firing of three deputies and two federal lawsuits.
In one of its thinnest and least critical reports in the last six years, none of the 19 complaints assigned and investigated by the Grand Jury resulted in reports being issued. All the complaints were either rejected or closed due to the nature of the allegations or because they were not within the Grand Jury’s jurisdiction. No complaints were passed on to the newly appointed 2014-2015 Grand Jury for follow up.
Grand Jury foreman Rosie Hinojos chalked it up to a more efficient and better managed county than in previous years.
“The departments are just cleaning up their act and watching how their money is being spent,” Hinojos said. “It was just one of those years.”
Members of the Grand Jury visited the county’s five main jails - West Valley, Central Detention Center in San Bernardino, Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore, the Victorville jail and the High Desert Detention Center in Adelanto, between August 2013 and March. All were determined to be in compliance with the California Code of Regulations as it pertains to adult detention facilities.
Hinojos said the Grand Jury was surprised when the news broke in April about the allegations at West Valley, which prompted an FBI criminal investigation and an internal affairs investigation by the Sheriff’s Department, both of which are still pending.
“Everything we saw in the jails indicated they were running the way they should,” Hinojos said. “There were no problems with any of the ones we saw or visited.”
Two federal lawsuits totaling 10 inmate plaintiffs have been filed in U.S. District Court alleging civil rights violations. Jim Terrell, one of three Victorville attorneys representing the inmates in the lawsuits, called the Grand Jury report a “sham.”
“Did the Grand Jury ask one question of anyone involved in the recent FBI investigation or meet with abused prisoners’ family members?” Terrell said in an e-mail.
Three rookie deputies, Brock Teyechea, Andrew Cruz and Nicholas Oakley - all of whom were fresh out of the training academy and had been on the force less than a year, were fired in the wake of the investigations.
Though authorities have not disclosed details of their investigations, interviews with the inmates and the lawsuits allege a sadistic pattern of Taser gun torture, brutal pat-down searches and assaults that have been occurring for years.
In previous interviews, Sheriff John McMahon has stood by his department and the jails it operates. He hosted a tour of West Valley in the wake of the allegations, calling the facility first-rate. The jail is now undergoing upgrades that include security cameras in all units, making for a safer jail.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said it welcomes the findings and recommendations of the 2013-2014 Grand Jury Final Report.
“These recommendations are the end product of many hours of serious study, and offer thoughtful suggestions for our department,” McMahon said, after having studied the results of the Grand Jury’s investigations, in the statement. “We are thankful for the insights provided by the Grand Jury, and we will consider the implementation of their recommendations.”
Incident reports requested by the Grand Jury spanning September 2012 to September 2013 indicated there had been one suicide, 20 attempted suicides, four natural deaths, one murder, 366 inmate-on-inmate assaults, and 41 assaults on staff at West Valley. The Grand Jury determined each incident was handled appropriately according to policy and procedure.
No inmate deaths were reported at Glen Helen or the High Desert Detention Center over a 12-month period, while two suicides and one attempted suicide were reported at the Central Detention Center and one suicide and three attempted suicides were reported at the Victorville jail, according to the report.