Sonoma County Sheriff's Office sued for alleged inmate beatings

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office for the alleged beatings by correctional deputies of more than 20 Sonoma County Jail inmates over several hours in May.

The 14-page complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco names two plaintiffs, Marquis Martinez and Daniel Banks, out of 20 young men whom the deputies allegedly "systematically and sadistically attacked" on May 28 in the Main Adult Detention Facility in Santa Rosa, according to the complaint filed by attorneys Izaak Schwaiger, John Scott and Lizabeth de Vries.

Schwaiger says it started with guards angry at one man for arguing. They allegedly beat, stripped and humiliated him

"Stuffed him back into underwear that were too small for him, several sizes too small," said Schwaiger. 

The complaint states Martinez had a panic attack when he heard the correctional deputies beating several inmates in the module.

Jail staff repeatedly beat Martinez, and Banks tried to avoid an assault by laying face down on a mattress to show submission,but he and the other inmates were attacked, the complaint states.

"An uninterrupted stream of nearly identical attacks occurred up and down the housing unit over the span of over five hours under the direction and supervision of Sgt. Brian Galloway, Lt. Mazen Awad and other supervisory staff," according to the complaint.

"For five-and-a-half-hours, the jail was filled with screams, cries of pain, and the sound of inmates begging the deputies to stop," according to the complaint.

Schwaiger said he received more than 20 letters from inmates following the beatings and he called the alleged beatings "gut-wrenching" and "beyond the pale."

"They came to their rooms one at a time, unlocked the doors, entered, tortured them, beat them, drug them out into the yard, beat them there," said attorney Izaak Schwaiger. "Threw them back in their cells and went to the next door, one at a time." 

Schwaiger said jail staff videotaped a large portion of the beatings, and the videos are in the possession of Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas, who also is named as a defendant.

"This is like a horror movie, and we have reason to believe this was not an isolated incident," Schwaiger said in a statement.

Schwaiger has scheduled a news conference on the lawsuit for 11 a.m. Tuesday at his law office in Santa Rosa.

It's not the first lawsuit for excessive force here. Another man, arrested for dui in 2012 said his jailers beat and tased him as documented in YouTube video of the incident. His claim against the county is close to settling.

A sergeant in this video is also accused of involvement in the new case. 

Freitas and his staff declined to respond on camera, but released a statement that said deputies were responding to a "coordinated mass disturbance by inmates" interfering with "the safe operation of the facility."

The statement also says there is "absolutely no basis to allegations of torture or sadistic action." 

The full statement by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department can be read here.

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