Four Orange County sheriff's deputies were taken to a hospital for treatment after two separate outbreaks by inmates in the County Jail late Monday night.
Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Dick Olson described the deputies' injuries and the outbreaks themselves as minor. In one incident, juveniles set a plastic shower curtain on fire, filling the juvenile housing area with smoke. Eighteen minutes earlier, a drunk suspect fought with deputies as he was being booked, Olson said.
A union spokesman for sheriff's deputies said, however, that such outbreaks are becoming more common and increasingly dangerous to jail deputies.
"It's just a matter of time until one of our members is injured seriously," said Robert J. MacLeod, general manager of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. "This is exactly what we've been talking about in our potential job actions against the county."
Deputies have authorized the union to call job actions, if necessary, to force improvements in working conditions, the union announced Monday. On Tuesday, MacLeod said he was hoping to improve deputies' working conditions through negotiation and was reserving job actions as a last resort.
MacLeod disagreed with Olson's description of the incidents as minor. "I guess that's easier for them to say than the deputies transported to the hospital for medical attention," he said.
According to Olson, at 10:47 p.m. Monday Deputy Bruce Barrett was bitten on the lower left arm by a man brought to the jail by Seal Beach police on suspicion of being drunk in public.
Seal Beach Police Sgt. John Wachtman said it took three Seal Beach officers to subdue Nathan Ellis Hayes, 25, a plumber from Garden Grove, and put him into a police car for the trip to County Jail. He said the man tried to kick out the police car windows during the trip.
According to Olson, Deputy Barrett was taking the handcuffs off the man and was putting him into an isolation cell when the man attacked, and another prisoner, William Richard Markey, 30, of Garden Grove, joined in. He said a second deputy, James Lund, who came to Barrett's aid, suffered a swollen left wrist and abrasions on his left knee.
Drunks Often Quarrelsome
"Drunks that come in and want to fight--that happens all the time," Olson said.
Olson said both deputies had charge of the suspect at the time, but MacLeod said his information indicated "that there was only one deputy, not two," in charge. He said it was typical of how understaffing at the jail endangers jail deputies.
Olson said that 18 minutes later some juvenile prisoners, "apparently upset about their cells being searched while they were in the recreation area," set a plastic shower curtain on fire in the showers at the jail's juvenile housing section.
The fire was out before Santa Ana Fire Department units arrived, but in the meantime, Deputy Lund was in the midst of it again--this time suffering mild smoke inhalation, Olson said.
He and Deputy Dennis Hall, who complained of dizziness, were sent to a hospital for examination, as was Sgt. Pete Gannon, who wrenched an ankle during the fire, Olson said. All were treated and released.
Olson said investigators are trying to discover who set the fire. "They will file additional charges if they can determine that," he said.
He said charges of assault on an officer will be sought against the man who bit Barrett and the second prisoner who joined the fight, though both were released on their own recognizance.
"As we've been saying, the conditions (in the jail) are volatile," MacLeod said. "Inmate-on-inmate assaults used to occur every week or two. Now they occur almost daily, and deputy injuries are similarly increasing."
Lt. Olson declined to respond to MacLeod's allegation. "We don't really have any statement to make at this time on it," he said.