There was no real question as to whether U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson would give his final approval to the settlement of the massive lawsuit brought by the ACLU—Rosas v. Baca—which was approved by the LA County Board of Supervisors at the end of last year, and means the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails is now subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts.
But the 10:30 AM hearing before Pregerson on Monday served as a reminder of how bad things have been in the nation’s largest jail system, in that it featured an appearance by Michael Holguin, a former inmate in Men’s Central Jail, who was one of the 70 Rosas victims or eyewitnesses who made declarations for the lawsuit.
Holguin—who is now 35, and works for a car auction company-–made his report to the ACLU after he was badly beaten in 2009 by several deputies, among them Fernando Luviano, who was also one of the 21 members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who have thus far been indicted as part of the ongoing federal investigation into wrongdoing at the LASD.
(Specifically Luviano is part of a group of five deputies charged with assaulting various visitors to Men’s Central Jail, along with handcuffing the Austrian Consul General. Their case is scheduled to come to trial later this year, but you can read the indictment here.)
“The hearing was important because technically there was no final settlement without the court okaying it,” said So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg. But also, he said, having Holquin present was significant because “it was the first time that the court had ever heard from someone who was part of the lawsuit.”
Holguin has already won what is thought to be a decent sized sum of money in the settlement of a civil suit against the county that concluded in the fall of 2013. (He declines to disclose the amount of the settlement.)
When the incident in the jail took place he had been charged with having an illegal weapon—namely a cop baton—in a compartment on his motercycle.
According to his civil complaint, in October of 2009, Holguin and the other inmates of the 3500 unit of Men’s Central Jail, where Holguin was housed, had not been allowed showers for more than two weeks. “We had to bird-bath out of the sinks in our cells,” Holguin told me.
On October 18, however, along with others in his unit, he was finally let out of his cell for a shower. “It was odd cells one day, even cells the next day,” he said. But, after he was moved toward the shower area, at the last minute, Holguin was informed that he would not be allowed a shower after all. When Holguin asked why and protested that we wanted his scheduled shower, then-Deputy Fernando Luviano reportedly replied, “Turn around and I’ll tell you why.” At this point Holguin was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, then moved to a “nearby area,” where he was allegedly beaten severely, kicked, slammed repeatedly in the head and body with a hard object, presumably a flashlight, while the deputy said “stop resisting,” over and over, even long after he had been knocked to the ground.
“But I wasn’t struggling, except to kind of brace myself for the blows,” he said. “I was mostly trying to curl myself into a fetal position.”
At some point two other deputies reportedly joined in, spraying Hoguin with a long stream pepper spray. Then Luviano allegedly rubbed the spray in Holguin’s closed eyes.
According to the diagrammatic record made by LASD’s Medical Services [see above], Holguin suffered extensive cuts and bruising requiring seven staples in the center of his scalp, plus four stitches over his right eyebrow. His knee was deeply lacerated, his tibia was broken in two places requiring a “short leg cast.”
When he was returned to his cell after being released from the hospital, Hoguin was “placed on a 29-day loss of privileges” and reportedly “routinely denied” the use of a cane, wheelchair or crutch so that he could make his way around his cell and elsewhere without putting weight on his cast.
Eliasberg said Holguin’s presence was important at Monday’s hearing “because his complaint hits so many of the marks that are reflected in the settlement agreement drawn up by the experts that is now to be implemented.”
Holguin too hoped his presence had an affect. “I don’t normally like to take off work for anything,” he told me. “But when Peter asked me, I said yes, because I’d like to do anything I can to help him and the ACLU, They’ve helped me so much. So, if I can do something to show why the settlement agreement should go through the way it’s written, I wanted to do that.
“I know there’re a lot of great cops out there,” Holguin added. “I really do. But when you have people like I saw, it just ruins it for everybody. It’s not right.”
On Monday afternoon, Sheriff Jim McDonnell put out his own statement on the Rosas confirmation, which he called an “important agreement.”
“Today’s decision enables us to continue to move forward,” stated McDonnell. “From the time I served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence (“CCJV”) and saw firsthand the challenges facing our County’s jails and the concerns regarding how we house and treat those in our charge, I have been deeply committed to this process of change.”
McDonnell pointed to the “great strides” made in the custody division since the CCJV report issued. More work remains to be done, he wrote, but he was deeply committed to “implementing and institutionalizing meaningful and lasting change” that would “insure that our jails are a safe, humane and appropriate place for those we incarcerate. as well as the dedicated men and women who work there.”
May it be so.
ABC-7’S MIRIAM HERNANDEZ ALSO HAS A REPORT ON THE HEARING…so check it out.