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$857,500 Paid by California County for Jail Detainee’s Death, While Cellmate Who Beat Him Is Now in State Prison

by David M. Reutter

On August 17, 2022, Lager George Reid, 26, was admitted to Folsom State Prison, after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of his cellmate at the jail in California’s San Bernardino County. Reid was being held at the county’s West Valley Detention Center (WVDC) on March 4, 2019, when he fatally beat Robert Vernon Sutton, 58. The county ultimately paid $857,000 in April 2021 to settle a lawsuit brought by the dead man’s estate.

Sutton had a mental impairment that made him extremely adverse to physical contact. He was transferred from Patton State Hospital to WVDC on February 1, 2019, to await assignment and release to a transitional housing facility. As a result of his impairment, Sutton was designated to have his own cell while held at WVDC.

After Reid was arrested for battery and serious bodily injury on March 3, 2019, he was transported to a hospital where he attacked a nurse. He was then booked into High Desert Detention Center and transferred later that same day to WVDC, where he was assigned to a cell with Sutton. Initially, Reid refused to enter the cell because he “did not like the look” of Sutton. Despite that and the guards’ knowledge that Reid was known to have “a history of violent conduct and offenses,” he was placed in the cell with Sutton.

So a young man who had already attacked two people was housed in a cell with a mentally ill older man with a hair-trigger temper. What could go wrong?

Plenty, as it turned out. A few hours later, guards investigating a commotion in the cell found Sutton’s bloody and battered body. “His shirt was pulled over his face, there was a shoe print on the left side of his head, and he suffered a gratuitous number of injuries including but not limited to lacerations, bruises, broken bones, and a crushed lung,” according to the civil rights complaint later filed by his estate. Sutton was transported to a hospital but later died from his injuries.

Represented by the Skapik Law Group, Sutton’s estate sued the County in federal court for the Central District of California on March 3, 2020. Also named as Defendants were the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department and various officials at WVDC. The parties proceeded to reach a settlement agreement on April, 2, 2021, providing for an $850,000 payment to the estate and a $7,500 payment to the California Victim Compensation Board to satisfy its lien against Sutton. The settlement also included fees and costs for the estate’s attorneys. See: Estate of Sutton v. County of San Bernardino, USDC (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 5:20-cv-00433.

Reid was charged with murder on March 12, 2019, but he struck a deal and pleaded guilty to assault and voluntary manslaughter on June 24, 2021. See: California v. Reid, Cal. Super (San Bernardino Cty.), Case No. 0817. The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says he will be eligible for parole in February 2028. 

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