What began as a visit to a psychiatric center for a prescription refill ended as a nightmare for one inmate at the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, a lawsuit says.
Four deputies targeted Fernando Miguel Soria and conspired with another inmate to spray him with feces and urine — a practice known as “gassing” — over the course of three months, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.
“This was despicable, horrendous conduct, and these officers violated his constitutional right to be free from excessive force,” said Soria’s attorney, John Burris. He added that the deputies “engaged in conspiracy to violate his civil rights.”
The suit outlines disturbing actions it attributes to the four deputies, who were charged last year by the Alameda County district attorney’s office following an investigation by the Sheriff’s Office, said sheriff’s spokesman Ray Kelly. The deputies — Justin Linn, Erik McDermott, Stephen Sarcos and Sarah Krause — were charged with assault under the color of authority.
Soria was booked into the Santa Rita Jail in late August after resisting arrest at the county’s John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro. The Oakland resident, who has a history of depression and other psychological disorders and needed medication, was picking up a prescription refill, but became involved in a scuffle with staff members, according to the lawsuit.
At the jail in September, deputies “conspired in a hellacious and despicable plot to ‘gas’ Soria ... from a plastic shampoo bottle filled with urine and feces,” the lawsuit states.
On multiple occasions, the deputies persuaded another inmate, known in the jail as “Preacher,” to gas Soria, opening his cell door to facilitate the action. Many times, Soria was not allowed to shower, change or clean himself for days after the attack, according to the lawsuit.
Soria says his arm was broken during one incident in which a deputy slammed the handcuffing port closed while his arm was extended through the cell door opening.
In another incident, Soria alleges that McDermott sprayed Mace on his chest while he was lying down, and he was not allowed to wash it off.
Preacher admitted to investigators that he gassed Soria with the help of Krause and Sarcos, and that on one occasion, he attacked another inmate at the deputies’ instruction. It’s unclear why Soria was targeted or whether Preacher also is facing charges in connection with the attacks. Two or three other inmates were also targeted, Burris said.
Soria was moved to a different unit and remained at the jail for another five months, Burris said. He said Soria tried to report the incidents, “but no one took him seriously. It was his word against the officers’.”
Kelly said it was fellow staff members who first came forward with the allegations against the deputies.
“We dealt with this last year,” Kelly said. “The incident was discovered by staff members working in the jail, who reported it to their supervisors. That launched an investigation, which led to the arrest and prosecution of the deputies.”
The four were relatively new to their jobs, having worked for the agency for only a few years before their arrests, he said.
The Alameda County counsel’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.