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Taser Misuse at California Jail Costs County $1.15 Million

by Derek Gilna

On March 5, 2018, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department in California settled a federal civil rights lawsuit that alleged deputies at the Rancho Cucamonga jail engaged in a practice of “tasing” prisoners for their own personal amusement. 

The $1.15 million settlement on behalf of prisoner Cesar J. Vazquez revealed a pattern and practice of employee behavior at the jail that resembled torture. 

“Defendants used excessive force against Plaintiff amounting to punishment and torture without due process of law and for no penal reason, including, but not limited to, the following conduct: using electroshock weapons and Tasers to tase plaintiff on his upper thighs, back, and legs,” Vazquez stated in his complaint. “The Deputies laughed at and mocked Plaintiff’s reaction to the pain of the electroshocks and tasing. Over a ninety (90) day period after his arrival at the [jail], Plaintiff estimates that he was tased at least fifteen (15) times, without due process of law and for no penal reason.”

Sheriff’s deputies reportedly made bets as to which prisoners could better withstand the pain of being tased, and offered prisoners who consented to being shocked extra food and other benefits. Food servers who agreed to be tased were given special privileges, including extended television and phone time and more freedom to move around the cell block.

The settlement was only the latest in a string of jail-related payouts by San Bernardino County totaling $4 million, which included lawsuits over physical abuse by jail staff and inadequate medical treatment. A class-action suit concerning medical and mental health care, filed by the Prison Law Office, settled in December 2018; that case will be reported in a future issue of Prison Legal News.

Perhaps the most disturbing allegation in the complaints was that jail supervisors were apparently unwilling to rein in the pattern of abuse and discipline or terminate the guards responsible. The lawsuits argued that the practice of tolerating excessive use of force at the jail constituted an unconstitutional custom, practice or policy, and that the sheriff and his supervisors provided inadequate employee training.

The abuses at the jail became public in April 2014 when the FBI revealed that it had opened an investigation. Seven deputies were fired and an FBI spokesman confirmed a criminal investigation is still pending. Vazquez was represented by attorneys Scott J. Eadie and Kirt J. Hopson. See: Vazquez v. County of San Bernardino, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:14-cv-01753-JGB-MRW. 


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Related legal case

Vazquez v. County of San Bernardino