A former San Diego County sheriff’s deputy pleaded no contest Tuesday to assaulting a jail inmate, becoming the first deputy in the past five years to be successfully prosecuted for using excessive force in the jails.
Arthur Verbeck, a deputy for slightly more than a year before he resigned in December, was sentenced by San Diego Municipal Judge Frederic Link to one day in jail, a $300 fine, 30 days of community work service, and three years’ probation.
The sentence was immediately decried by the victim and the American Civil Liberties Union as being too lenient for Verbeck, particularly since it comes when dozens of current and former inmates have alleged that they, too, were assaulted by sheriff’s deputies in the six county jails.
“I don’t feel it’s justice at all,” said James Vallario, the Chula Vista cabdriver who was assaulted in December by Verbeck while serving a short jail stint for non-payment of child support.
“I’m very bitter about the whole thing. I took the beating of my life. If it had been up to me, I’d have gone to trial and hung him. That’s how deep down I feel about it.”
The sentence was equally offensive to Betty Wheeler, legal director of the local ACLU, which has been investigating many of the alleged assaults.
“I’m concerned that this sentence may send a message that this is not conduct that will be treated in a serious manner,” she said. “An assault is obviously a serious matter, but when it’s done under color of authority, then it especially calls for redress.”
Link defended the sentence he handed the former deputy, indicating that Verbeck has already been punished.
The judge said Verbeck’s life would have been in jeopardy while serving a long jail sentence because of his past career with the Sheriff’s Department. He said Verbeck lost his deputy’s job and has been unable to keep a job since. He said the case has cost Verbeck a lot of money, noting that he has already lost his house.
“I felt then that this was a proper sentence,” Link said.
The maximum penalty on the charge would have been a year in custody and a $1,000 fine.
Verbeck, 24, was charged with misdemeanor assault in the apparently unprovoked beating Dec. 4 that began in a stairwell of the downtown detention facility.
Vallario, 43, said Verbeck, a former Marine, grabbed him in a headlock, rammed his head against the wall and knocked him face first into a steel door. He said the deputy then slammed him face first on the floor and, using large brass keys, knuckle-punched him repeatedly in the side. He said Verbeck then stood him up, kicked him in the stomach, choked him and yelled racial slurs at him.
Verbeck could not be reached for comment. He did not appear in court Tuesday, and his attorney entered the plea on Verbeck’s behalf.
However, the former deputy acknowledged in a probation report that his actions were “out of line” and said: “I lost my temper.”
He was hired as a San Diego County sheriff’s deputy in November, 1986, and resigned shortly after the attack on Vallario.
Link said he conducted several in-chambers conferences with both sides on the case, and was told by the prosecutor and the defense attorney--and Vallario’s private lawyers--that the injuries may not have been as serious as originally believed.
Vallario said Tuesday that he missed six months of work and amassed more than $3,000 in medical bills. He said he originally suffered trauma, intestinal problems, possible internal injuries and pain in his back.
He said the back pain still lingers. “But I stopped going to the doctor,” he said. “I didn’t want to keep running up bills.”
He has filed a $75,000 claim against the county. County officials offered him a lower sum, which Vallario found unacceptable. He is now considering a lawsuit.
He said he was disgusted with the whole ordeal--the beating, the low settlement offer and now Verbeck’s light sentence.
“It all makes a farce out of justice,” he said. “I’d rather have seen a lot of this come out in the open at trial. There’s just too many people getting beat up mercilessly in jail.”
Verbeck originally pleaded no contest in May to the assault charge.