West Valley Detention Center

The West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga on May 8. (Jennifer Cappuccio Maher — Staff photographer)

By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 05/12/14, 4:43 PM PDT |

RANCHO CUCAMONGA >> Inmates at the West Valley Detention in Rancho Cucamonga alleging they were tortured and terrorized by deputies also say they were denied grievance forms and threatened with retaliation if they pressed the issue.

More than a half dozen inmates have come forward alleging a longstanding pattern of abuse by deputies at the jail, including repeated electric shocks by stun guns, beatings, spraying pepper spray into their cells and illegal body cavity searches, all they say without provocation.

All of the inmates are housed in a segregated wing at the jail because they face potential danger from other inmates due to the crimes they are charged with or other extenuating circumstances.

Eric Wayne Smith, 27, an inmate and former chow server at West Valley, was the first to come forward with the allegations.

During a recent visit to the Central Detention Center in San Bernardino, Smith, who said he was transferred from West Valley and placed in solitary confinement after complaining to authorities about his alleged abuse, declined to discuss specifics, fearing for his safety.

But he did say he was regularly denied grievance forms.

“I would ask, and they just never gave them to me,” said Smith, incarcerated for robbery and about to head to prison.

Other inmates in Unit 11, the segregated housing wing at the jail, said they were also denied grievance forms.

On May 7, attorneys for inmates John Hanson, Michael Mesa, Lamar Graves, Brandon Schilling, Christopher Sly and Eddie Caldera filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Riverside alleging civil rights violations, demanding more than $135 million in damages.

The inmates described the abuse at the jail as both a hazing ritual involving chow servers and a sadistic abuse of power by deputies.

Inmate Graves, as well as inmates Mesa and Hanson, said deputies Brock Teyechea and Andrew Cruz often entered their cells in the middle of the night and stunned them with their stun guns, laughing hysterically in the process.

“I have metal screws in my hips because of a deformity I was born with, and that’s where they were stunning me,” said Graves, 31, during a recent interview at the jail. “I told them it hurt and to stop, but they wouldn’t.”

Victorville attorney James Terrell, one of the three attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said in an email Monday that every plaintiff says they were denied grievance forms and threatened with retaliation if they complained.

“Every single person states that happened,” Terrell said.

Sheriff’s officials did not immediately respond Monday to questions about the inmate grievance process and whether inmates are supposed to be given grievance forms upon request.

Sheriff John McMahon, who has declined to comment on the lawsuit, said last week that his department has been working in cooperation with the FBI on the criminal and administrative investigations that began in March when the allegations surfaced.

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