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August 21, 2005

Abu Ghraib California

-- by Gary Boatwright

From the pages of the O.C. Weekly, Justice Takes a Beating: OC court greenlights torture in local Jails

Sheriff Mike Corona's deputies could teach Gen. Geoffrey "Gitmo" Miller a thing or two about torture.

Last month, on the other side of the planet from Abu Ghraib prison and 3,200 miles from Guantanamo Bay, right here in Orange County, *five jail deputies handcuffed, hooded, beat and tortured a 38-year-old San Clemente businessman*, according to a claim filed this week.

Still in pain three weeks after the July 17 incident, Greg W. Hall told OC Weekly about a Sunday evening that began auspiciously: enjoying a beer early in the afternoon and later several coffees, contemplating surfing and walking his dog at the beach. As Hall backed his SUV out of a parking space, his dog jumped in front of a side-view mirror and distracted him. He sideswiped another vehicle, causing minor damage.

Just in case you were wondering, Hall is a white man.

Just another day at the beach:

When police arrived, they gave Hall a field-sobriety check and two Breathalyzer tests. Crime lab records show his blood alcohol level was 0.00. Nevertheless, deputies believed Hall acted oddly. Currently on probation for an illegal prescription case in 2003, Hall told the officer at the scene about the beer and admitted that he used Paxil, an antidepressant medication. The deputy arrested him on suspicion of DUI and transported him to the Orange County Jail for a drug test. After a nurse took his blood, the arresting officer told Hall, “You’ll probably be out of here in about an hour,” and left.

But a 16-hour “hellish nightmare” awaited Hall, who attended Newport Harbor High School, graduated in 1991 from UC San Diego with a degree in economics, and says he has operated several small companies. When he complained about the tightness of his handcuffs, five deputies swarmed him, yelled obscenities and attacked without legitimate provocation, Hall claims. Handcuffed and overwhelmed, his body was treated like a piñata.


Those good old boys at the OC jail know how to have a good time:
According to documents filed Aug. 11 with county officials, the deputies dragged Hall down a corridor, shoved his face into a cell door frame, threw him to the floor, punched him, kicked his ribs, stomped on his back and legs, bent and twisted his arms and wrists, and repeatedly slammed his face into the concrete. Hall says one deputy tried to break his right foot with his bare hands. He remembers an unrelenting, “two- or three-minute attack” that ended only when a superior officer ordered the deputies to stop.

“I thought they were going to kill me,” said Hall, bandaged and wearing a wrist cast. “They had no right to torture me. I was in handcuffs. I was cooperating.”

At press time, the results of Hall’s drug test were not available. But medical records show that during his visit to the jail he suffered a concussion, broken ribs, a gash in his leg, an eye contusion, broken veins in his feet, a shattered front tooth, lacerations and bruises over his body, contusions to a knee, neck pain, a fractured right wrist and nerve damage to his left hand. The handcuffs were locked so tightly that the steel sliced his hands and caused dangerous swelling. An imprint of a deputy’s boot could be seen on the back of his leg for days.

The beating was so severe that Hall defecated in his pants. Deputies laughed and called him a “shit monkey.” When they returned to his cell later, they cursed at him again—*and tied a black mesh hood over his head*.

The "Psycho Crew":

But law enforcement sources, defense lawyers and former inmates tell the Weekly that a minority of officers in the Orange County Jail are, as a sheriff’s department official familiar with excessive force cases described them, “pure and simple thugs who don’t have the mental or emotional makeup to wear a badge.”

“Outsiders might think the department wouldn’t tolerate these bad apples,” said the official. “But they’re definitely there. They’re an embarrassment to the department. They’ve even had names, including ‘The Psycho Crew.’”

Unimaginable brutality has been publicly reported:

Brown, now with a Tennessee newspaper, found evidence in 2000 that jail deputies entertained themselves by encouraging fights between inmates. In 2001, Brown and Register reporter John McDonald disclosed that four deputies had taken a 20-year-old inmate to an isolated area of the jail in December 1999 and *crushed his testicles*. Prosecutors agreed that the man had been tortured but said a code of silence among jail personnel prevented the filing of charges. Deputies claimed their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination when they were brought before the grand jury

The California Court of Appeals condones torture:

But the Court of Appeal comprises well-connected individuals. And for those with further political ambitions, it’s unwise to take sides against law enforcement or to dig too deeply into local institutions like the jail. So it’s not surprising that Sills’ panel routinely ignores the screams of beaten suspects and inmates.

What’s alarming, however, is how far that panel will go to make life more miserable for inmates, many of whom are still—nominally, at least—innocent. Just before Hall’s alleged July 17 beating, the appeals panel gave tacit support for jailhouse torture. On June 29, Justices William Rylaarsdam, Richard D. Fybel and Eileen C. Moore overturned a jury’s decision to award $177,000 in damages to Robert N. Carter, an inmate who suffered numerous injuries while in custody for possession of drug paraphernalia. Forty years old and overweight, Carter claimed that deputies refused to give him medicine for a critical heart condition, kicked him in the groin repeatedly, pepper sprayed his face, beat his ribs, broke his jaw and hog-tied him. He said he was forced to use his cell’s toilet water to rinse the pepper spray from his eyes.

The Court of Appeals has repeatedly condoned brutal beatings:

But the most troubling ruling from the court came on June 8, when Justices Moore and Fybel joined William Bedsworth. The case was simple: Santa Ana police took Hong Cuc Truong, who’d been arrested for shoplifting in 2002, to the Orange County Jail. There, Truong—a Vietnamese immigrant diagnosed with schizophrenia—initially refused a deputy’s command to undress and take a shower before she was to be issued a jail jump suit. Truong began undressing about 10 minutes later, after another inmate convinced her it was safe to disrobe. As she pulled her sweater over her head, however, four deputies pounced, beating and kicking her and painfully twisting her arms behind her back. In the process, Truong suffered a severe arm fracture, according to records reviewed by the Weekly. Tossed in a cell, she said she was denied medical attention for hours.

The appeals court ruled there had been no excessive force. Never mind that the woman was in the process of complying when the attack occurred, wrote Justice Moore: “Truong’s refusal to obey the lawful order and the events that led to her injuries are part of an unbreakable chain of events.” It was “temporal hair-splitting” to consider that the woman had “changed her mind and started to remove her sweater.”

But lost in Moore’s justification was a missing explanation: Why did it take four trained deputies—using considerable violence—to handle Truong, who, at the time of the incident, was 54 years old, an inch over 5 feet tall and barely 100 pounds?

Cross posted at MyDD

Posted by Gary Boatwright at August 21, 2005 3:58 PM

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Comments

This is disgusting.

Posted by: Thomas Leavitt [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2005 5:15 PM

Indeed, completely disgusting.

Posted by: ArC [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2005 5:49 PM

You mean the SoCal courts have begun to mimic the Southern courts of the 1960s? Thank goodness we have federal courts to act as a balance.

Ooops. Maybe not.

And the hooding here is like a poetic closing of the circle: former corrections officers like Charles Graner brought the hoods to Abu Ghraib, and it's just possible inspired their revival here.

Posted by: Chris [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 22, 2005 3:50 AM

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