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California Prisoner Wins $365,000 Settlement for Assault by Jail Guards

by Scott Grammer

On April 18, 2016, Rikki Martinez, 39, was a pretrial detainee at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Santa Clara, California. According to a complaint filed in federal court, on that day deputies alleged that Martinez had kicked another deputy in the face. As a result, he was to be moved out of Elmwood and housed in the main jail.

Sergeant Elmer Wheeler, who was working at the main jail in intake/booking, was reportedly informed about the kicking incident and Martinez’s impending move. Wheeler was accused of conspiring with guards Salvadore Jacquez, Jon Quiro, Jason Satariano, Eamonn Dee and Adam Torrez to “give [Martinez] a beating as punishment.” He allegedly went so far as to explain to the other guards how they would proceed, what parts they would play and how to make the beating “seem spontaneous and legitimate” on video.

Martinez, who had been diagnosed with PTSD by a jail doctor in 2015, and was medicated accordingly, claimed he was punched “in the face three to five times with a closed right fist” by Jacquez while being held down by Satariano. Martinez “could be heard straining to exclaim, ‘I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!’ as at least three deputies were on top of him as he laid face first on the bed.” Then Torrez allegedly hit Martinez at least twice.

Martinez was moved to the jail infirmary where nurses called an ambulance to take him to an emergency room. His right eye was swollen completely shut. Martinez’s emergency contact, his mother, was not notified despite his repeated requests that she be called. The next day, Martinez slipped a note to another prisoner in the infirmary asking that he call his mother to let her know what happened. He did so, saying, “Your son got beat up by officers last night. He says he loves you and to come see him.”

Martinez’s mother began trying to get information from the jail and attempted to visit her son. The infirmary nurse told her he “just had an injury to his right eye,” and that “she wanted [him] to stabilize on his medications first,” which would take about two more days.

Martinez’s girlfriend and his mother scheduled a visit on April 22, 2016 and arrived an hour early to check in, but were told the visit had been canceled because they arrived too late. Martinez’s mother was not allowed to see him until April 26, a full week after the beating. His eyes were still black and he had “visible knots” on his head. He also suffered a bloody nose and chipped front tooth.

A settlement was reached on September 19, 2018, awarding Martinez $365,000. Attorney Robert Powell, who filed the lawsuit with co-counsel Sarah Marinho, said, “He was basically given vigilante justice.... [The settlement] indicates there is some accountability for what was done to Mr. Martinez.” See: Martinez v. Santa Clara, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:16-cv-05626-LHK. 

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Additional source: mercurynews.com

Related legal case

Martinez v. Santa Clara