Los Angeles County taxpayers are on the hook for at least $740,000 in damages after a federal jury Thursday found dozens of Sheriff's Department supervisors and deputies "engaged in malicious and sadistic conduct" against inmates at Men's Central Jail in 2008.
During the five-week trial, jurors watched videos of deputies removing inmates from cells forcibly, resulting in skull fractures, broken limbs and other serious injuries.
They awarded five of those inmates a combined total of $740,000 in general damages. On Tuesday, they will decide punitive damages.
"We hope the verdict will send a message to deputies, to leaders of the Sheriff's Department and to the county that human dignity and civil rights has to be the cornerstone of any custodial policy," said Ron Kaye, lawyer for the plaintiffs.
"We understand that when people commit crimes, they need to be punished, but there has to be a line. These are inmates in custody, but they deserve the decency and necessary protections of the law."
Sheriff Lee Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, declined specific comment. "The trial is not over so, out of respect to the court, we're not going to comment yet," he said. "We'll wait until the trial is concluded, at which time we are going to be more than willing to discuss this."
The five plaintiffs -- Heriberto Rodriguez, Carlos Flores, Erick Nunez, Juan Carlos Sanchez and Juan Trinidad -- are slated to receive $90,000 to $200,000 in damages, based on the severity of their injuries. All are in state prisons, according to their lawyer.
In their complaint, the men accused the deputies of subjecting them to "dehumanizing abuse" during a cell extraction on Aug. 25, 2008.
That day, about 15-30 high-level inmates had barricaded themselves inside their cells, supposedly to protest the beating of a fellow inmate. Deputies forced each of them out using fists, batons, projectiles and Tasers.
During the trial, Deputy Nicholas Graham admitted on cross-examination that he punched and kicked inmates 17 to 35 times after they had been hit repeatedly with Tasers and forced to the floor.
The violence took place three weeks after gang members killed a jail deputy, Juan Escalante, outside his home in Cypress Park. Inmates said some deputies believed gang members inside the jail had ordered the murder and retaliated by beating them.
Rodriguez had among the worst injuries. According to the complaint, deputies fired projectiles at him, used his own shirt to choke him into unconsciousness, and then shocked him back into consciousness by applying a Taser to his testicles and other parts of his body until its entire charge was extinguished.
Rodriguez sustained a tablespoon-size fracture in his skull. ___
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