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$325,000 Paid by Colorado County to Jail Detainee Brutalized by Guards Equipped with Controversial Training

by Chuck Sharman

On October 28, 2021, a Colorado man dismissed his suit against Weld County after agreeing to accept a $325,000 settlement for injuries allegedly inflicted on him by guards at the county jail, where he was held as a pre-trial detainee. The settlement also includes an agreement by the county to stop placing detainees in the jail on “detox hold” and never again to hire jail training consultant Joseph Garcia or any firm associated with him. As PLN has reported, Garcia has left a trail of controversy and excessive-force lawsuits in jails where he and his firms have provided guards with paramilitary-style training. [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.58.]

The Colorado detainee, Tage Rustgi, was a college student who “had no criminal record” and “had committed no crime,” his complaint noted, when an evening out drinking with friends ended with his placement “for unclear reasons” in the county jail on a “detox hold” on June 23, 2018. He was handcuffed in a lobby area while a jail nurse began checking him over, when video surveillance recorded three guards with the jail’s Special Operations Group (SOG) putting on earplugs. Joined by a fourth guard and their supervisor, they escorted Rustgi to a cell off-camera, while jail staff remaining in the lobby area all covered their ears.

Inside the cell, Rustgi obeyed an order to lie face down on the floor. The SOG guards then fired Kel-Tec shotguns in his direction, generating “extremely forceful and loud explosions” as well as “a visible flash” captured by another surveillance camera, which also caught the two non-SOG guards turning away and covering their ears.

At this point, the guards finally activated their body-worn cameras, which showed Rustgi still lying on the floor, though now “in a pool of blood” from lacerations caused by the blasts. He was taken to a hospital, stitched up and released to recover with from a hemorrhaged eye. No charges were ever filed against him.

With the assistance of Denver attorneys David G. Maxted of Maxted Law LLC and Kathryn J. Stimson of Stimson Stancil Labranche Hubbard, LLC, Rustgi filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on July 7, 2020, accusing the guards of using excessive force in violation of his due process rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

He also claimed that Sheriff Steve Reams was liable for “the unconstitutional policies, procedures, training, customs, and conduct” of his employees, a liability that further extended to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC)—under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978)—by the county’s contracts for the training that the SOG guards received from Garcia and his firm, CSAU-1 LLC and US C-SOG.

The Court dismissed the claims against Reams in his official capacity on April 29, 2021, saying they were duplicative of those already filed against the county. See: Rustgi v. Reams, 536 F. Supp. 3d 802 (D. Colo. 2021). The parties then proceeded to reach their settlement agreement.

In addition to the payout, the county also agreed that Reams would abide by certain conditions in deploying “Distraction Rounds and any other forms of less lethal munitions,” as well as keep records of each instance. The BOCC also promised “that Weld County Jail will not accept Detox Holds for detention” and that “it will never again contract for training services with Joseph Garcia or any company owned by, operated by, employed by, or which contracts with Garcia.” See: Rustgi v. Bd. of County Comm’rs, USDC (D. Colo.), Case No. 20-cv-00945-WJM-STV. 

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Related legal cases

Rustgi v. Bd. of County Comm’rs

Rustgi v. Reams