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San Bernardino County, California Sheriff’s Office Settles Civil Rights Suit

by Derek Gilna

The County of San Bernardino, California and Sheriff John McMahon have settled a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in February 2016, which alleged they had failed “to provide minimally adequate medical, dental and mental health care” to prisoners in the county’s jail system, and had failed “to prevent unnecessary and excessive uses of force against inmates and impose[d] on inmates the harmful and excessive use of solitary confinement in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments....” The complaint also raised claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act (RA).

The case, which received class-action status in January 2017, was settled with a court-supervised consent decree. 

The class consists of “all people who are now, or in the future will be, incarcerated in the San Bernardino County jails,” with a subclass of “all people who are now, or in the future will be, incarcerated in the San Bernardino County jails and who have a psychiatric and/or intellectual disability” as defined by the ADA and RA.

“The sheriff and his staff have been cooperative all the way through this process,”  said Prison Law Office director Donald Specter, who represented the class members with other PLO attorneys. He noted that the sheriff had been making constructive changes since the lawsuit was filed.

“Sheriff John McMahon has been transparent about the conditions in the jails and has negotiated in good faith,” Specter stated. 

According to a press release issued by the Prison Law Office, the consent decree, reached in late March 2018, provides that “jail officials will substantially increase the amount of time that most inmates are permitted to be out of their cells; jail deputies will be required to follow a revised policy regulating the use of force; individuals with disabilities will receive reasonable accommodations that will offer them equal access to activities and programs; access to healthcare will be expanded; [and] experts and the Prison Law Office will monitor the County’s compliance with the settlement.”

 “I’m sure there will be issues, but I’m hopeful that we will be able to work them out,” Specter said.

Sheriff McMahon also commented on the settlement, saying “We have given inmates greater access to services and programs, and we have hired additional deputies and medical personnel, and will continue our recruiting efforts, so that we can ensure the safety and well-being of inmates and staff.”

The consent decree requires the defendants to provide reports to the Prison Law Office every 180 days regarding compliance with the agreement, as well as continuing jurisdiction by the district court. The settlement, which will remain in effect for four years, was approved by the court on December 14, 2018. The defendants also agreed to pay $350,000 in attorney fees and costs; fees for monitoring the agreement are capped at $150,000 per calendar year. See: Turner v. County of San Bernardino, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:16-cv-00355-VAP-DTB. 


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Related legal case

Turner v. County of San Bernardino