SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) - Inmates who claim they were beaten by deputies and supervisors at the Sonoma County jail had relatives speak out on their behalf on Tuesday.
At a media conference, Laurie Banks read a letter written by her son Daniel Banks following the alleged beating.
“I was scared of them that day and I still am,” she read.
Banks is named as a plaintiff in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Sonoma County Sheriff and supervisors for allegedly allowing the beatings to take place.
The lawsuit claims Banks was beaten by four deputies who were wearing ski masks and did not have their badges on. Banks claimed to lay on his cell mattress with his hands behind his back to show submission, but was still beaten.
“He said just mom I knew they were coming, they were going down the line,” she said. “He was scared for his life. He had no idea how bad the beatings were.”
Attorney Izaak Schwaiger said Banks was beaten along with 20 other inmates over a five hour period in the jail in May. Schwaiger said the beatings were prompted when inmates heard deputies initially beating another inmate.
When other inmates called for the beating to stop, the deputies allegedly turned their focus on the rest of those jailed.
“These are rival gang members all who wrote to us independently asking us to help,” Schwaiger said. “It's consistent room to room to room hour after hour.”
Karina Arango said her brother was beaten too, but he has yet to be named in the lawsuit.
“He's not a killer and he's not an animal,” Arango said. “He does not treat animals like they treat him.”
The Sonoma County Sheriff has denied all allegations of torture and said the deputies were responding to a riot that interfered with the safety of the jail. The sheriff has yet to reveal videos which reportedly captured the beatings.
“If he wants to call them liars then show me that video and I'll be very happy to withdraw the lawsuit and walk away,” Schwaiger said.
Schwaiger said he has reason to believe there are several hundred videos at the jail documenting similar events, but no officer has ever been disciplined for excessive force. He is calling for an independent monitor to review allegations of wrongdoing.
Banks’s mother said she tried to reach out to jail employees before, but was silenced.
“They told me to please be quiet, that I could jeopardize my next visit,” she added.
Schwaiger sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch asking her to launch a criminal investigation into the allegations. A spokesperson for the D.A.’s office released a statement that in read in part: “The Sheriff’s Office has released a statement indicating that their investigation is ongoing, per their policies and procedures. At this time this office has no involvement.”
KTVU also reached out to the Sonoma County Counsel’s Office who is handling the lawsuit.
Assistant County Counsel Sheryl Bratton said the office could not specifically respond to the allegations, but said “the Sheriff is strongly committed to operating a jail that is safe for all inmates and staff.” She added that the Sheriff’s Office and the County are committed to transparency.
Schwaiger said only two people are named in the suit, but that number could increase as times passes. There are also talks of possibly filing a class action lawsuit against the county.