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California: Placer County to Pay up to $1.44 Million to Settle Class Action Suit for Jail Beatings

by Douglas Ankney

In March 2019, Placer County, California agreed to create a fund of $1,449,700 to settle potential claims arising from a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners who were beaten by guards at the county’s two jails. Placer County had previously settled six suits and a claim arising from similar allegations for a total of $1.25 million.

The settlement agreement requires notification of potential class members who were in the jails from August 11, 2015 to August 14, 2018. It also calls for the sheriff’s office to track all use-of-force incidents and provide quarterly reports to the prisoners’ attorneys through December 2019.

According to the complaint, Paul Bangert, a homeless and mentally ill man, was held as a civil detainee at the Auburn Main Jail in connection with mental health court proceedings. He was placed under close observation in an isolation cell due to his mental health issues. 

In May 2017, three guards, Robert L. Madden, Megan C. Yaws and Doe 1 (identified in news reports as Jeffrey Villanueva), burst into Bangert’s cell and tased him repeatedly. They struck him with their fists at least a half-dozen times on the back of his head, jumped on him and choked him into unconsciousness. He was then handcuffed and put in a restraint chair without receiving any medical treatment. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.63].

The complaint alleged Sheriff Devon M. Bell had prior knowledge that guards were assaulting prisoners and engaging in cover-ups. In People v. Coleman, filed in Placer County Circuit Court, it came to light that in connection with a July 14, 2016 incident, portions of the Auburn Main Jail’s surveillance video recordings had been edited. The missing portions corresponded to the period of time a prisoner alleged he was beaten by five guards. 

Bangert settled his claims for $250,000, and under the terms of the agreement will receive another $50,000 as an incentive fee for pursuing the class-action case.

Yaws, Madden and Villanueva were arrested and charged with “assault by a public officer” and “filing a false report” in connection with the beatings of Bangert and several other prisoners, including Phillip Daley, Jacob Gillespie and Jordan White. The charges against Yaws were dropped in April 2018 due to lack of evidence.

The class-action settlement received final approval from the district court on March 29, 2019. See: Bangert v. County of Placer, (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:17-cv-01667-KJN. 


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Related legal case

Bangert v. County of Placer