Sheriff

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 08/02/15 – 7:34 PM PDT |

Court proceedings in five federal civil rights lawsuits alleging inmates at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga were brutalized by deputies have been suspended for a second time while criminal and grand jury investigations remain ongoing, court records show.

At the request of attorneys representing more than a dozen current and former inmates at the jail, Judge Jesus G. Bernal granted the stay on July 24 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Bernal extended the stay until Oct. 1, according to minutes from the hearing posted online.

The first stay in the civil proceedings was granted March 26 and expired June 30.

Minutes from the July 24 hearing reflected only four of the lawsuits. A fifth civil rights lawsuit filed Jan. 25 on behalf of former inmate Eric Smith, now in state prison, was granted a stay on July 8, said Smith’s attorney, Matthew Eanet, in an e-mail Friday.

Dozens of current and former West Valley inmates allege deputies at the jail engaged in a pattern of Taser gun torture and other abuse in a segregated housing unit at the jail, where inmates vulnerable to attack by other inmates, such as those charged with sex crimes and gang dropouts, are housed. The inmates wear green jumpsuits as opposed to the standard orange jumpsuits worn by inmates in the jail’s general population.

Many of the inmates suing were former food servers at the jail, referred to as “chow servers,” who allege the abuse was part of a hazing ritual that was a prerequisite to earning or maintaining the privilege of being a chow server, which came with it additional time out of their cells, extra food and the autonomy to move freely about the housing unit.

It was Smith who triggered the FBI and sheriff’s administrative investigations in March 2014, Eanet said.

In April 2014, the FBI and the Sheriff’s Department confirmed the criminal and administrative investigations had been launched, and that three deputies, later identified as rookies Brock Teyechea, Andrew Cruz and Nicholas Oakley — all of who had been out of the training academy for less than a year — were no longer employed with the department.

In February, it was confirmed that a federal grand jury had been convened to hear witness testimony and the FBI’s evidence in the case.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Bachman confirmed that four other deputies named in the lawsuits — Robert Escamilla, Russell Kopasz, Robert Morris and Eric Smale — were no longer employed by the department.

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