MARTINEZ, Calif. - Internal Affairs investigators ruled that a Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy used excessive force, and then failed to report it, when he ended up hospitalizing an inmate who looked like he had been in a "bar room fight and lost," newly released public documents reveal.
The sustained findings against Deputy Michael Gray in 2013 were released this week under a police transparency law that mandates previously secret personnel files be made public.
Gray could not be reached by email. Shawn Welch, president of the Deputy Sheriff's Association, said that he was not personally familiar with the case. But he did confirm that Gray still works for the sheriff's office and has not caused any issues since the IA investigation.
In a letter, Sheriff David Livingston told Gray that his actions reflected poorly on the department and tarnished the reputation of the office.
As punishment, the sheriff restricted Gray from working overtime for six months. He was also told to complete classes at the Sheriff's Law Enforcement Training Center. A letter of reprimand was placed in his file. According to Transparent California, Gray earned about $100,000 in annual salary and another $100,000 in overtime in 2018.
A series of images from the Martinez Detention Facility, including the pinky of a deputy, as they relate to an excessive force case.
The investigation into Gray began on March 5, 2013, when an inmate's attorney wrote the sheriff's office about something that happened three days earlier at the Martinez Correctional Facility.
The lawyer, whose name was redacted along with the inmate's, asked the sheriff to look into allegations that the inmate had been attacked, and taken to the hospital with a broken nose and ribs, a bruised kidney and other injuries. The attacker was a deputy, the lawyer wrote.
"I was surprised as to how badly he was beaten," the lawyer wrote to Undersheriff Matthew Schuler. "He had two black eyes and his face was still swollen...He looked like he had been in a bar room fight and lost."
The lawyer said that the inmate is "hard to understand" but has no history of violence.
In his report, Gray had told superiors that the inmate had locked himself in his cell during free time, and then began to "violently pound and kick the door."
Gray then said he had to deliver a "knee strike" and a "leg sweep" to the inmate, before cuffing him, because he was resisting. In another interview, Gray said that he later pushed the inmate to the floor and punched the inmate at least twice, records show.
The lawyer explained to the sheriff's office in an email that the inmate can be "loud when he is trying to express himself" and was knocking on the door because he was supposed to get a telephone call from his family, whom he is very close with.
But after interviewing 14 other witnesses, investigating officers, Sgt. Ron Hoekwater and Sgt. Allan Shields, found that Gray erred along the way.
The investigators concluded that Gray should not have entered the inmate's cell by himself, especially if he was acting erratically.
At first, the sergeants found it was reasonable that Gray responded with some force to gain compliance with the inmate.
But after conducting their investigation they found that Gray's accounting of the story was not acurrate.
"Gray described it as a calm escort," but based on the deputy's own account, the inmate only "passively reisted by yelling out loud," the investigators found.
They also said that his incident report lacked "crucial details," including the part about where and how the inmate sustained major injuries.
It was only after further questioning that Gray admitted he had hit the inmate twice with a closed fist in the left temple because the inmate refused to let go of the deputy's finger.
The sergeants said at this point, there was no need for Gray to have exerted any physical restraint to control him, especially since there was no evidence that the inmate tried to "kick or head-butt him at any time while they were inside the visit room," the investigators wrote.
The investigators also noted that the inmate was handcuffed and while in the visit room did not place Gray in any danger.
"The situation had de-escalated to a point where no force, other than a control hold, would have been a reasonable amount of force...It appeared Deputy Gray unncessarily created a situation that led to the escalation of his use of force."
Gray told the IA investigators that he was tired and busy, which is why he didn't properly fill out his incident report.
After initially saying that complying with the release of police personnel records was too burdensome, the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office has been one of the more prolific in the Bay Area in releasing records under SB 1421.
The investigations have showed that the sheriff has either fired, tried to fire or disciplined several deputies who had sustained findings against them, mostly for for lying.
One deputy was was terminated for not being truthful about a sham marriage.
Another deputy was able to fight his proposed termination when superiors found he lied about a DUI and didn't pay his bridge tolls.
That deputy ended up resigning last month, after his ex-girlfriend came forward with evidence that he had been texting her inappropriate photos of inmates from jail.