West Valley Detention Center

The West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga. A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of inmates who allege that they were repeatedly abused by deputies in the detention center. (Jennifer Cappuccio Maher — Staff photographer)

By Joe Nelson, San Bernardino Sun
Posted: 05/08/14, 9:33 PM PDT |

RANCHO CUCAMONGA >> In the middle of the night, San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies Brock Teyechea and Andrew Cruz would enter the cells of inmates at the West Valley Detention Center and awaken them with electric shocks from their stun guns, laughing out loud while inmates screamed in pain and begged for them to stop, inmates said.

And in what was described by inmates as a brutal hazing ritual, the two deputies, fresh from the training academy and not even employed with the Sheriff’s Department a year, would randomly shock inmate chow servers with their stun guns, the price the inmates had to pay for the privilege of being food servers, which brought with it lengthy time out of their cells.

“You never knew when to expect it,” said inmate John Hanson, 40, during an interview Thursday at the jail, where he has spent the last 16 months on a kidnapping charge and is one of six plaintiffs named in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Riverside alleging civil rights violations by Teyechea, Cruz and six other deputies at the jail.

The lawsuit also names as defendants Sheriff John McMahon and Capt. Jeff Rose, the commander of the jail.

McMahon on Thursday said he could not comment on the lawsuit, but said the alleged misconduct appears to be isolated to a few individuals in a certain area of the jail.

“We have found no information in our investigation to suggest that this is institutionalized,” McMahon said, adding that his department and the FBI continue cooperating with one another in their administrative and criminal investigations, respectively.

Neither McMahon nor the FBI could comment on the status of the pending investigations, which were announced publicly in April. The abuse allegations surfaced in early March, authorities said.

“We take these allegations very seriously, and we are doing a detailed investigation inside the facility,” McMahon said.

But Hanson said Thursday that no one from the Sheriff’s Department has talked to him or other inmates alleging the abuse. McMahon said he could not comment on that.

The lawsuit, which may not be the last to be filed, alleges Hanson and inmates Lamar Graves, Eddie Caldera, Brandon Schilling, Michael Mesa and Christopher Sly were subjected to acts of torture from Jan. 1, 2013, through March 2014. They were shocked with stun guns to their genitals, deprived of sleep, their arms lifted up behind their backs while handcuffed, had shotguns placed to their heads and were sodomized, according to the lawsuit.

McMahon specifically disputed the sodomy allegations on Wednesday, saying there was no evidence indicating such was the case.

Hanson said he became a chow server on Feb. 17. He remembers the day well, and Teyechea’s and Cruz’s unique way of welcoming him aboard the crew.

“Teyechea said, ‘Oh, so you’re the new guy, huh?’” said Hanson.

Cruz then stepped forward and pulled out his stun gun, he said.

“(Cruz) said, ‘Where do you want it?’” Hanson said. “I told him in my right leg, above the knee.”

Hanson said he had been warned by his fellow inmates, Eric Smith and David Smith, no relation, that the chow servers got the “Taser treatment” all the time, and when approached by Teyechea and Cruz, to ask to “take it in the leg” because getting stunned in the back or ribs was extremely painful.

David Smith, one of the suspects in the high profile 2008 “bunker murder” case near Barstow, was transferred in February to the newly expanded High Desert Detention Center in Adelanto. His attorney, Gary Ablard, said Thursday he was having a private investigator look into any possible allegations that his client had been abused by inmates while he was housed at West Valley.

Eric Smith, 27, of Hesperia, was the first to report the abuse allegations to authorities and suffered the brunt of the abuse. He was transferred to the Central Detention Center in San Bernardino shortly after reporting the alleged abuse to authorities, inmates said.

Smith, who is in custody for robbery, declined to comment Thursday during an attempted visit at the jail.

In one incident, Teyechea allegedly sprayed pepper spray under the door of Mesa’s and Hanson’s cell after they witnessed the deputy doing the same thing to inmate Eric Smith and his cellmate in the neighboring cell.

“He said, ‘Do you want some of this, too?” Hanson said of Teyechea. He said he and Mesa huddled near an air vent inside their cell to avoid inhaling the caustic chemicals.

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