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CA Jail Deputies Allegedly Provoke Murder of Misidentified Child Molester by Other Prisoners; Wrongful Death Suit Settled for $600,000

CA Jail Deputies Allegedly Provoke Murder of Misidentified Child Molester by Other Prisoners; Wrongful Death Suit Settled for $600,000

A prisoner booked into the Theo Lacy jail in Orange County, California on domestic battery and child pornography charges was falsely labeled a child molester by deputies, and as a result was savagely beaten to death by other prisoners. The victim’s parents sued Orange County for $60 million for failing to protect their son, but settled for $600,000 before trial.

Computer technician John Derek Chamberlain, 41, was awaiting trial at the Theo Lacy jail on October 5, 2006. At 1 p.m. that day, Chamberlain’s attorney, Jerry Steeling, called the jail and advised them that Chamberlain was in fear for his life because he had overheard threats from other prisoners who thought he was a child molester.

Jail officials ignored Steeling’s request to have his client moved to protective custody.
Sometime between 5:50 p.m. and 6:50 p.m., Chamberlain was dragged to a blind spot in his housing unit. There, approximately twenty prisoners beat him for 20-30 minutes; he was stripped naked, scalded with hot water, and punched, kicked and stomped. Other prisoners spat and urinated on him. Although three jail deputies were nearby, they did not intervene as they were too busy watching TV and sending text messages. Chamberlain was pronounced dead at the scene. [See: PLN, Feb. 2009, p.1].

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Chamberlain’s family alleged that jail guard Kevin Taylor had told prisoner Jared Petrovich, a gang “shot caller,” that Chamberlain was a child molester and “needed to be beaten.” Taylor further reportedly told Petrovich that the prisoners in the unit would be rewarded for the beating by being allowed to watch a televised Dodgers vs. Mets playoff game.

The suit claimed that Orange County jail officials should have known that child sex offenders were frequently targeted and severely beaten in the jail, and were even targeted by guards. Furthermore, deputies should have noticed the lengthy fatal beating, because they were in the area watching TV and could hear the fight and Chamberlain’s cries for help. Finally, the lawsuit alleged that the deputies gave prisoners involved in the beating time to wash off Chamberlain’s blood to prevent their being identified.

The parties entered into a settlement agreement in February 2008. The settlement included written recognition that Orange County and its employees denied all legal and factual allegations raised in the complaint. But that position wasn’t accepted by others. An Orange County special grand jury report released in February 2008 found wrongdoing by jail staff, and the county Board of Supervisors created an office of independent review to examine complaints at the facility.

There is plenty of blame to go around relative to Chamberlain’s murder. Seven prisoners have been charged with homicide. One has fingered jail deputies Taylor and Jason Chapluk, accusing them of instigating the attack by falsely telling other prisoners that Chamberlain was a child molester. Taylor responded that he was watching TV (while on the job), and saw and heard nothing inside the Barracks F West unit during the 20-minute period while Chamberlain was beaten to death. After the murder, Taylor allegedly altered the jail log to reflect his willingness to have moved Chamberlain, which he falsely wrote Chamberlain had “declined.”

Details emerged that at around 6:30 p.m. Chamberlain was taken to a partially hidden cubicle where a mob of prisoners doused him with scalding water, beat him with shoes, kicked him in the head and punched him with their fists – all while he lay screaming for help on the floor, curled into a protective ball. One of the assailants hit Chamberlain so hard that he broke his hand. Another, holding onto a bunk for leverage, stomped on his skull.

Orange County deputies apparently have a history of arranging fatal beatings of accused child molesters at the jail. The Chamberlain murder was the second such death at the facility in a month where deputies were accused of instigating such attacks.

Conspiracy to commit murder in California carries a 25-life sentence. But Orange County is a hotbed of wealthy “tough-on-crime” conservatives, and it remains to be seen if any deputies will do a single day in prison for complicity in the murders of jail prisoners. See: Chamberlain v. Orange County, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 8:07-cv-01154-DOC-RC.

Additional sources: Orange County Register

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Related legal case

Chamberlain v. Orange County