Saturday, July 12, 2014
(San Bernardino County) Grand Jury identified but ignored red flags at West Valley Detention Center
July 11, 2014
The AlpenHorn News
By S.E. Williams
“There were no discrepancies found at any of the five County Detention Centers the Grand Jury inspected. All personnel during each site visited were knowledgeable and professional.”
This was the conclusion reached by the 2013-2014 San Bernardino County Grand Jury as published in its Final Report last week. This assessment includes the jurors’ perception of the heavily maligned West Valley Detention Center.
The report created quite a stir—but not for the usual reasons. Historically, Grand Jury Final Reports are controversial for what they reveal. This year’s report sparked controversy for what was either a bold and intentional oversight on the part of the jurors; or, the result of an inexplicably weak and surprisingly shallow assessment of the county’s detention centers—especially the West Valley facility.
The Grand Jury assessment is of particular concern considering the San Bernardino County detention centers are currently under intense scrutiny by local, state and national media. The intense focus began in early April when it was revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had launched an investigation of alleged civil-rights violations at the West Valley Detention Center. Concurrently, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department publically admitted that its command staff had launched an investigation into possible misconduct by detention center personnel.
In addition, it was well publicized that there are at least two federal civil rights lawsuits pending that involve at least 14 plaintiffs. The suits were filed against San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon; commander of the West Valley Detention Center, Jeff Rose; and, at least one sheriff deputy, B. Teychea.
The plaintiffs have reportedly asked for 150 million dollars each—if successful, county taxpayers could be on the hook for more than two billion dollars.
Court documents detail allegations against authorities at the West Valley Detention Center that are shocking. The claims of torture are most notably egregious. Some of the most deplorable include allegations that inmates subjected to electric shock to the genitalia; sleep deprivation and sodomy; that shot guns were held to their heads; their arms were handcuffed behind their backs to the point of excruciating pain. The court documents described such treatment of these inmates as “… malicious, sadistic and designed to inflict pain and suffering…”
It is also well publicized that at least four deputies previously assigned to the West Valley Detention Center are no longer employed there and it is rumored that several more may be terminated. It has also been well reported that the case against detention center personnel may be handed to the U. S. Attorney for further investigation and consideration of criminal charges.
How did the Grand Jury miss the mark regarding this scandal by such a wide margin? A detailed review of the Grand Jury Report by The Alpenhorn News showed that the jurors conducted their field inspection of the West Valley Detention Center on September 9, 2013. Admittedly, this was well before the stories of alleged torture surfaced in April of this year. However, jury’s report also documents that something prompted the jurors to request information from the facility beyond what they observed during their September 9th visit. Although the jurors visited three other detention facilities and a holding facility, West Valley was the only place where jurors documented a request for further information. Why?
Was this additional request the result of a red flag that raised some unspecified concern(s); concern(s) they ultimately chose to ignore. After all, their initial notation on the official inspection form for the West Valley Detention Center showed, “Impression of staff/inmate interactions: Good”. However, the document also noted a total of 230 minor inmate grievances per month and a total of 10 major incidents. Certainly, the West Valley Detention Center has a much larger capacity than the other detention facilities but these numbers appeared out of proportion to what was identified at the other centers.
During their visit the jurors also made note of one suicide, ten attempted suicides and a total of four deaths by other causes. The causes were identified as one by natural causes; two as the result of pre-existing conditions; and, one homicide.