Sheriff

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 02/29/16 – 11:04 AM PST |

In a continuing series of lawsuits alleging inmate abuse and other civil rights violations in San Bernardino County jails, a prisoners rights organization filed a class action lawsuit Monday against the county on behalf of two inmates.

The lawsuit, filed by the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office on behalf of George Topete and Zachery Shovey, both inmates at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, comes after nearly two years of talks between the prisoner rights nonprofit and the county in an effort to remedy the situation.

“San Bernardino County is violating the constitutional rights of the nearly 6,000 people it incarcerates in its jails,” according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside. “Jail medical, mental health and dental care is so deficient that it is harming the people it aims to serve.”

The lawsuit alleges “jail staff use excessive force against inmates they are charged with protecting and fail to take even the most basic steps to prevent violence.”

Topete is physically disabled and has difficulty walking without use of a cane, which he is routinely denied. He was provided a wheelchair, but was not housed in a unit that is wheelchair accessible, according to the lawsuit.

“As a result he has fallen and is at risk of falling when trying to access the visiting area, his cell and the toilet,” the lawsuit states, which also alleges Topete was denied access to a machine he requires to treat his sleep apnea.

Shovey, according to the lawsuit, has a long history of psychiatric problems including multiple suicide attempts, uses psychiatric medications and spent nine months in a state psychiatric hospital. He was denied mental health treatment and medications for one year after he was booked at West Valley, despite symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, anxiety and insomnia. In addition, the lawsuit alleges jail staff failed to provide Shovey with timely medical treatment for his seizure disorder.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department issued a news release Monday denying the allegations, saying the health care provided to inmates is “high quality,” that inmates with disabilities are accommodated and that prisoners are housed in a safe and secure environment. It blamed prison realigment for the issues at the jails, which has forced the county to pour millions of dollars into security upgrades and additional law enforcement, medical and mental health staff.

“Since prison realignment, counties, including San Bernardino, have faced significant challenges in housing more inmates for longer periods of time than they have historically,” Sheriff John McMahon said in a statement Monday.

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