One-legged San Francisco inmate awarded $500,000 after being forced to hop to cell
A jury this week awarded $504,000 to a one-legged San Francisco County inmate who was denied the use of his wheelchair and forced to hop to a cell while handcuffed.
The federal jury awarded the damages to Vincent Bell on Wednesday in a suit he filed against the city and county of San Francisco and several Sheriff’s deputies.
Bell, 40, was one of six people charged with taking part in the 2012 murder of a man who was beaten and shot, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. He is accused of providing the gun used by the alleged shooter and is awaiting trial.
“We hope that it sends a clear message to the city and county of San Francisco that people do not relinquish their constitutional rights once they enter the carceral system,” said Chan Kim, an attorney for Bell. “All detainees must be accommodated.”
Jen Kwart, a spokesperson for San Francisco City Atty. David Chiu, said they are weighing whether to appeal.
The city attorney’s office remains “adamant that the Sheriff’s deputies acted reasonably and appropriately when placing and transporting the plaintiff to a safety cell,” Kwart said in a statement.
Bell, whose right leg was surgically amputated, was being held as a pre-trial detainee on Jan. 14, 2018, when he was written up for cheering during a football game and ordered to spend 10 days in restrictive housing, according to court documents.
Earlier that morning, Bell said a deputy sexually harassed him, and submitted a complaint the same day, the complaint states.
On Jan. 18, while serving out the discipline, he was ordered by Sgt. Yvette Williams to transfer cells, the complaint states.
Williams ordered a cell extraction, which is “designed to remove individuals from their cells with the use of force and under the threat of greater force,” according to the complaint.
Williams claimed Bell had barricaded himself in the cell using his bed and mattress, but footage of the incident shows him calmly sitting in his wheelchair with his belongings on his bed, according to court documents.
Bell was pinned to the ground, handcuffed and then ordered to hop out of the cell without his wheelchair, the complaint states.
When “he was physically unable to continue hopping, he stated that his leg was tired before he collapsed on the ground,” according to court documents.
Court documents state Williams ordered Bell to stand before a team dragged him to what’s known as a safety cell. There, he was stripped naked, with a rosary necklace cut off his neck, and left in the cell for 24 hours, the complaint states.
In its verdict, the jury found Williams had used excessive force against Bell. The jury said the city and county of San Francisco violated Bell’s disability rights and failed to train deputies on the proper use of a special operatios response team, or SORT, and the safety cell.
The jury determined the city and county had caused Bell physical and emotional harm.
In a statement, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office expressed disappointment in the outcome and reiterated that its deputies were justified in their actions.
“While we respect the judicial process and decisions made by juries of our peers, we believe our deputies not only adhered to the approved policy for transferring an inmate to a safety cell, but they showed courtesy and restraint when Bell, who has been in our jail for 10 years on murder charges, threatened deputies,” Tara Moriarty, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s office, said in a statement.
Kim, Bell’s attorney, said the legal team hopes San Francisco will bring its policies in line with federal requirements to provide accommodations for people with disabilities, and is planning to seek injunctive relief.
Bell was charged in connection with the December 2012 death of Stephen Reid, 26, who had recently arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area from Georgia.
Prosecutors said Bell, another man and two women stormed into a home and beat, gagged and hog-tied Reid and an 18-year-old woman, then put them in an SUV where Reid was shot before dumping them on a street. Reid died at a hospital. Authorities say the victims knew their alleged attackers.
Four people pleaded guilty to various charges in the case. The alleged shooter, Montrail Brackens of Oakland, has pleaded not guilty to murder.
Bell is being held in a San Francisco County jail located in San Bruno, according to his attorney.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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