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Sonoma Co. settles suit with inmates

Sonoma County has settled a lawsuit by county jail inmates who claimed they were beaten in their cells by corrections officers during “yard counseling” in 2015.

Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano disclosed the $1.7 million settlement Monday in a video on Facebook.

Giordano said:

“Some of the things we did were unacceptable.”

The 14-page federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco alleged that at least 20 inmates in the Main Adult Detention Facility in Santa Rosa were beaten over five hours in May 2015. Seven inmates were named as plaintiffs in the suit.

The inmates’ attorney Izaak Schwaiger said this morning the inmates were beaten after they protested the beating of one inmate. Inmates and their families then pooled their money so another inmate, Marquis Martinez, who was being held for a domestic violence incident, could post bail.

Schwaiger said:

“He got out and he told the world.”

Jail staff videotaped a large portion of the beatings, Schwaiger said when the suit was filed in October 2015.

Schwaiger said in October 2015:

“This is like a horror movie, and we have reason to believe this is not an isolated incident.”

In his Facebook video, Giordano says the “behavior counseling” was in response to some inmates’ extreme behavior and was intended to separate those inmates from others and inform them alone and privately of the behavior that is expected of them.

Giordano said:

“The good news is no inmates or staff were injured … But it’s still not acceptable for us not to do the best we can to treat everybody with dignity and respect.”

He added:

“We made some mistakes three years ago, we settled the case today and we made changes to make it right for this community.”

Since the beatings, jail staff have been retrained, and corrections officers will be getting body-worn cameras. Cameras also are being installed in common areas of the jail, according to Giordano.

Schwaiger said:

“Does the government have an obligation to do the right thing? Why does it take three years to say we shouldn’t have done it? It’s not really acknowledging wrongdoing … The sheriff’s office is not giving $1.7 million to inmates because they got yelled at. It’s on film. First acknowledge the wrongdoing. They found everything that occurred was within their policy. It’s disingenuous gamesmanship with human rights.”

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