Orange County pays $750,000 to settle suit by former jail inmate

Orange County has paid $750,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a former jail inmate who alleged he was Tasered while handcuffed and slammed to the floor by sheriff's deputies. The incident was captured on video.

The settlement was approved by county supervisors and paid out in early March, according to a spokesman for the county's chief executive office.

The lawsuit stemmed from the March 2006 arrest of Matthew Fleuret on suspicion of obstructing a deputy after getting into a bar fight on St. Patrick's Day. He was never prosecuted.

The videos, which became public after Fleuret filed a $47.5-million suit alleging excessive force, show him being placed in a holding cell at Orange County Jail and held on the floor by at least five deputies, one of whom pulls Fleuret's arms back while others repeatedly shock him with the Taser over a period of about 13 minutes.

Fleuret's attorney said his client was shocked 11 times.

In internal sheriff's reports at the time, deputies said Fleuret was intoxicated and uncooperative.

But Assistant Sheriff Tim Board said that since the incident, much has changed within the department regarding use of force. He cited the appointment of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens in 2008 as a motivator for reform.

"She has done a lot, she absolutely understands systems of accountability and risk management," Board said. "We're essentially a completely different department since 2006."

At the time Hutchens was appointed — in the wake of former Sheriff Michael S. Carona's resignation after he was indicted on corruption charges — the department was in the midst of the fallout from the 2006 fatal beating of an inmate at the hands of other prisoners not far from the glass-walled guard station.

A grand jury report in 2008 called the deaths of two inmates after being Tasered a "cause of alarm" and reported that jail staff used Tasers on 437 inmates from 2004 to 2007.

Board said one of the first things Hutchens did was conduct a complete review of use-of-force policy and bring it more into line with industry standards. He didn't know whether the number of use-of-force incidents had declined since then.

He said the department's training programs pertaining to the use of force have also been updated. All sergeants and lieutenants have gone through a 16-hour training program, Board said, and deputies are in the process.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union said the changes did not go far enough and urged the department to limit the use of Tasers to incidents in which there is a threat of death or serious injury.

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