West Valley Detention Center

West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.(Staff file photo)

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 02/05/15, 12:01 AM PST | Updated: 45 secs ago

An attorney alleging in two federal lawsuits that deputies at a San Bernardino County jail routinely abused inmates with Taser guns said Friday he will soon be filing a third lawsuit with 35 new plaintiffs.

Victorville attorney James Terrell said the lawsuit should be filed within the next two weeks. In May, he and Victorville attorneys Sharon Brunner and Stanley Hodge filed two lawsuits on behalf of 10 inmates at the jail after the FBI and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department announced in April that criminal and internal affairs investigations had been launched.

“The things we have learned from our clients are truly horrifying. The torture and abuse was perpetrated by several very demented and socially deviant San Bernardino deputies,” Terrell said in an email Friday. “The actions of these officers will come to light very soon, we believe, and are so awful that they violate basic principles of human decency.”

The new lawsuit comes in the wake of a federal grand jury proceeding in Riverside that Terrell said concluded Wednesday with the testimony of one of his clients.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, declined to comment, as did San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, named as a defendant in each of the five federal lawsuits filed to date.

Terrell said he and Brunner have traveled up and down the state in the last year, visiting jails, state prisons and federal prisons, meeting with alleged victims — most former food servers in the protective custody unit at West Valley who allegedly were singled out by deputies.

Inmates housed in the protective custody unit at the jail wear green jumpsuits and are segregated from the jail’s general population because they are susceptible to violent attacks by other inmates.

Inmates say they were subjected to a brutal hazing ritual of Taser gun abuse by deputies — the price they pay for the privileges that come with the title of “chow server” including more television and telephone time and freedom to move around the jail.

“Ironically, it was prisoners housed in protective custody for their own personal safety and protection . . . who were singled out by the individual defendants for abuse and torture, presumably because of their inability to retaliate and protect themselves,” Los Angeles attorney Matthew Eanet said in a lawsuit filed on behalf of former West Valley inmate Eric Wayne Smith on Jan. 25.

Smith, 28, of Hesperia, is now serving a sentence at Avenal State Prison for buying and receiving stolen property with prior convictions. He was the first to come forward with the allegations that prompted the criminal and administrative investigations, Eanet said.

When the criminal and internal affairs investigations were announced in April, the Sheriff’s Department had already fired rookie deputies Brock Teyechea, Andrew Cruz and Nicholas Oakley, who had been out of the training academy less than a year. In October, the department announced that four more deputies had been placed on paid leave during the investigation, but refused to disclose their names.

Deputies, the lawsuits allege, would routinely stun inmates with their Taser guns, deprive them of sleep by entering their cells in the middle of the night, stunning them with Taser guns as they slept or by blaring loud music over the jail’s intercom. Smith’s lawsuit alleges deputies also played audio clips of the horror film “Silence of the Lambs” in the middle of the night to taunt inmates.

Smith and other inmates also allege Teyechea sprayed pepper spray under their cell doors, causing them to become violently ill or press their faces against a ceiling air vent to avoid the caustic chemicals.

Investigators documented Smith’s injuries by taking photographs of burn marks on his body caused by the electric shock of a Taser gun, according to Smith’s lawsuit.

Along with Teyechea, Cruz and Oakley, other defendants named in the lawsuits include McMahon, West Valley Capt. Jeff Rose, and deputies Robert Escamilla, Russell Kopasz, Robert Morris, Eric Smale and Daniel Stryffeler.

The alleged inmate abuse was institutional, learned and either ignored or condoned at the very top, the lawsuits allege.

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