MARTINEZ, Calif. - An inmate at the Martinez Detention Facility claims he was the victim of excessive force by deputies who struck him repeatedly in the head for taking too long to use a microwave.
Pictures sent to KTVU show DeAndre Bolden with swollen black eyes and bruises on his face after the altercation with deputies six months ago. Jail reports also indicated he sustained swelling to the right eye and suffered a minimally displaced nasal bone fracture. His attorney says deputies should have been aware of mental limitations that affected his ability to comply with orders.
Jail officials, however, dispute that Bolden was hampered by mental disabilities and instead argue that deputies appropriately handled a defiant inmate.
Last month, Contra Costa County’s risk assessment manager denied Bolden’s claim, saying the 31-year-old Richmond man hadn’t listened to the deputies’ commands when they told him repeatedly to return to his cell on Nov. 17, 2019. The county also said that because of medical privacy laws, the deputies had no idea of Bolden’s mental disabilities.
Finally, the county pointed out that Bolden was identified as a “Track 4” inmate, meaning he has mild to moderate mood symptoms and could participate in daily activities. “In conclusion,” the country wrote, “it is clear that the injuries your client sustained were due to his blatant noncompliance orders and his physical resistance to the commands he was given.”
However, Bolden’s attorney, Eva Guo of San Francisco, said she is not satisfied with the county’s answer and she is poised to file a lawsuit by the end of this week.
According to her claim, Bolden has obvious cognitive disabilities and suffers from delusional disorder, psychosis; bipolarity and schizophrenia. She said jail employees should have known and acknowledged his differences.
“These Contra Costa deputy sheriffs did not see our client, as a human being,” Guo said. “To be able to brutalize someone who clearly has some mental challenges, when he has already suffered and continues to suffer from 400 years of systemic racism and mental health discrimination, the deputy sheriffs saw DeAndre as less than human, they were completely devoid of empathy.”
Bolden's grandmother, Sandra Johnson, told KTVU that after high school, her grandson was never really the same, sometimes acting sweetly and other times, acting erratically. She said she couldn’t afford health insurance to cover him to medically treat his issues.
Experts say Bolden’s case is a microcosm of the larger conversation that is pervading the country in terms of systemic injustices against underserved populations and the need to reform the criminal justice system by spending less on weapons and more on de-escalation.
Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, when a white officer knelt on his neck, there has been a growing movement to find alternatives to traditional policing skills and tactics.
Bolden's case, some say, exemplifies this debate.
“If the only thing you have is a hammer,” said San Francisco-based prison reform attorney Michael Bien, who is not connected to this case but has litigated similar issues in the state’s prison system. “Then everything you see is a nail.”
DeAndre Bolden suffered black eyes and a nasal fracture at Martinez Detention Center. Nov. 17, 2019
Bien continued: “We’ve only trained officers one way. We reward them for being tough and macho. We don’t reward them for de-escalation. We train them how to use weapons, batons and say, ‘This is your job.’ But if you bring in other types of professionals, like nurses, orderlies and psych techs, who are trained in calming people down, then you'll get different results.”
Bien pointed out that Bolden fits the classic criteria of who is most often harmed in the nation’s criminal justice system: A poor Black man with disabilities.
“People often fear Black males,” Bien said. “Coupled with that, most people with cognitive disabilities, or people who are deaf, they don’t always respond to authority the same way. And then those people in authority tend to see any type of opposition as a challenge and they escalate that to use of force.”
On the day in question, that’s exactly how deputies viewed Bolden’s actions.
According to incident reports, the deputies told Bolden that free time was over and he needed to go back to his cell. No video of the incident has been released, and reports show that the cameras weren't turned on at the start of the fight, but sometime during the middle, showing only the part where Bolden was allegedly resisting.
The deputies were identified as Alfonso Acosta, N. Cope and D. Gonzalez. KTVU sought to obtain public personnel records into their behavior and found there were no sustained allegations against them stemming from this, or any other, incident.
The sheriff’s spokesman declined to comment about the claim.
At the time, Bolden was in jail on suspicion of battery on a peace officer and battery on a person. Jail spokesman Jimmy Lee said Bolden had numerous warrants for charges that include: possession of a controlled substance, driving with a suspended license, failure to appear, felon in possession of a firearm, robbery, battery, obstruction, theft and probation violation.
As the deputies tell the story, an announcement had been made about 8:30 a.m. that it was time to return to the cell. Bolden was told to return to his quarters at least twice. But he instead walked to the microwaves, “actively refusing to lockdown,” the reports state.
One of the deputies said he tapped Bolden on his arm again and ordered to return to the room, but Bolden said he wanted to make more food and he didn’t move.
The deputies said they grabbed Bolden’s arm to escort him to his cell but he “turned around in an abrupt and aggressive manner as if to fight,” the deputies wrote. Another deputy wrote that he saw Bolden’s muscles tense and he assumed that the inmate, who stood more than 6 feet tall and weighed 222 pounds, would fight him.
Bolden was taken to the ground and but he continued “thrashing and refusing to put his hands behind his back,” according to the deputies.
Bolden yelled an expletive at the deputies. One deputy got shoved into an air vent, the files say.
Finally, one deputy ended up putting Bolden in handcuffs in 30 seconds, but not before another deputy said he issued a “single knee strike” to Bolden, which ended up landing in his face, instead of his shoulder. Bolden's head also hit an air vent and a window during the tussle, the incident reports show.
Bolden was taken to the hospital and then cleared to return to jail.
Bien said that he wishes society would take a closer look at Bolden’s case, and those like his, to reflect on what could be done better the next time.
First, Bien recommended, authorities should carefully look at who does the mental health intake at the jail: Is it a deputy or a psychiatric clinician? Obviously, the latter is better, Bien said.
Next, Bien said he’d like to see psychiatric technicians get hired in the jails and prisons instead of letting all the mental health emergencies fall to the deputies. These "psych techs" are trained in de-escalation techniques and are not armed with weapons.
And finally, Bien said he’d love to see more introspection by law enforcement on their own actions and behavior.
“What if the commanders said, 'OK guys, this isn’t OK,' ” Bien asked rhetorically. “Let’s go back and see if we could do this again without having this same outcome.”