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32 inmates awarded $2.5 million in abuse settlement involving Rancho Cucamonga jail

They were stunned with Tasers while delivering meals to other inmates, their attorneys said, causing trays of food to splatter on the floor. They were held at gunpoint while deputies jerked their handcuffed wrists above their heads in a move called “chicken winging.”

They were awakened in the dead of night, the “Cops” TV show theme blasting over the loud speaker.

For years, the attorneys said, dozens of inmates in protective custody at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga were tortured by a group of rogue deputies seeking “street justice,” often against accused sex offenders, gangsters or informants.

Now, 32 current and former inmates will receive $2.5 million as part of a settlement agreement in five federal lawsuits against San Bernardino County and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which operates the jail. On Tuesday, under the terms of the settlement, the lawsuits were dismissed.

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“These deputies just thought it would be, for whatever reason, humorous or fun for them to torture me, to abuse me, put shotguns to my head,” Donald Love, a former inmate, told The Times on Tuesday. “I believe those gentlemen should be in jail.”

Love was awaiting trial on charges of lewd and lascivious acts with a child and false imprisonment, according to San Bernardino County Superior Court records. During the second half of his roughly three-year stint at the jail, he said he was subjected to chicken-winging two or three times a week, sometimes while deputies called him “pee pee toucher” and “pervert.”

He said he wanted to fight his case but took a plea deal because he feared for his life while behind bars.

“They were threatening my life,” he said. “I did what I had to do to get out of there.”

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When he was released, he said, he underwent surgery to repair his rotator cuff — torn, he said, from the abuse.

Seven deputies were terminated after the allegations surfaced in 2014, according to James Terrell, an attorney who represented the inmates in the civil cases.

The Sheriff’s Department released a statement addressing the settlements. It said that deputies continue to receive training on dealing with inmates, more than 350 cameras have been added to the jails, and additional medical staff and sergeants were brought in to provide better care and supervision for the inmate population.

“The department feels this was an isolated incident, and the extensive internal and criminal investigations found no evidence to suggest widespread or institutional problems existed within the jails,” the statement read. “Although the department disputed some of the allegations made in this case, we believe the agreement entered by the county recently is in the best interest of all parties to avoid further litigation.”

An FBI investigation of possible civil rights violations at the jail is ongoing.

Terrell said some inmates were shot with Tasers, including on their genitals, for no reason. In some cases, deputies told inmates they had something “hot and spicy” for them before releasing pepper spray under cell doors.

When inmates wanted to complain, Terrell said, deputies withheld grievance paperwork.

“A deputy’s job is not to impose street justice or not to impose their own demented, sick, torturous acts on these people for their own pleasure,” Terrell said. The inmates involved, he added, are the “ones that actually need protection the most, and they got it the least.”

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alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @AleneTchek

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UPDATES:

July 26, 9:35 a.m.: This article was updated with a statement from the Sheriff’s Department.

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This article was originally published July 25, 11:30 p.m.


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