DOJ

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 04/17/16 – 11:16 PM PDT |

Federal prosecutors and FBI agents investigating allegations of inmate abuse at a San Bernardino County jail have conducted follow-up interviews with about a half-dozen current and former prisoners in the last month, their attorneys said.

“We have met with them more in the last 30 days than we have since this whole thing started back in 2014,” Victorville attorney Jim Terrell said.

Terrell is one of three Victorville attorneys representing 26 current and former inmates at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in four separate federal lawsuits. The other attorneys on the case are Sharon Brunner and Stanley Hodge, a former Superior Court judge in San Bernardino County.

The lawsuits were filed shortly after the FBI and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department announced in April 2014 that criminal and administrative investigations had been launched in the wake of the allegations, which surfaced March 5, 2014 when inmate Eric Smith filed a complaint with the FBI alleging he had been regularly tortured — both physically and mentally — by at least seven deputies during his stint at the jail from February 2013 to March 2014.

Smith alleged in another federal lawsuit that the deputies in question “regularly and repeatedly” stunned him with their Taser guns without provocation and against Sheriff’s Department policy. The conduct, the lawsuit alleges, was for them to “maintain a culture of fear, to prevent reprisals or complaints by inmates under their watch, and for their own personal entertainment.”

Smith’s lawsuit is one of three filed by different attorneys on behalf of former West Valley inmates, alleging a culture of violence and civil rights violations at the jail that was either sanctioned or ignored by the jail’s top commanders.

Brunner said the alleged abuse was cultural and not just a few bad apples, as the Sheriff’s Department maintains.

“This was a practice that was being passed down from several years of rotations of deputies,” Brunner said. “And that’s the biggest thing they’re going to try and deny.”

Sheriff’s Lt. Brad Toms, who heads the department’s public affairs division, deferred comment to the FBI. FBI spokeswoman Arielle Dekofsky did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Stout, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and two FBI agents were present during the interviews, Terrell and Brunner said.

The feds appeared to be tying up loose ends and seeking more specifics on times, dates and locations in the jail where the alleged incidents occurred, Brunner said.

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