Four Alameda County deputy sheriffs stand accused of felony assault against prisoners at the Santa Rita jail.
The facility is utilized by the city of Oakland and other San Francisco Bay Area municipalities.
Among the allegations: Deputies encouraged prisoners to throw feces and urine at each other, an inmate was strangled until losing consciousness, and witness intimidation.
Three of the accused deputies are male, and one is female. They are:
- Justin Linn, 23,
- Erik McDermott, 27,
- Stephen Sarcos, 30, and
- Sarah Krause, 26.
Justin Linn was charged with four counts of “felony assault by a public officer,” one count of dissuading a witness by force and one count of obstruction of justice.
Erik McDermott faces two counts of assault, and one count each of conspiracy and dissuading a witness. He is the deputy accused of choking an inmate into unconsciousness.
Stephen Sarcos, who has resigned, and Sarah Krause are each charged with one count of assault in an incident that took place in the fall of 2016. In interviews, S. Sarcos and S. Krause admitted they facilitated an assault by opening a cell door and allowing an inmate holding his own feces to throw them at another inmate.
A total of eight inmates were victimized by the four deputies.
Prison reform advocates say this case reflects a pattern of inmate mistreatment. It’s just the latest of many California prison scandals prompting calls for reform. Jail officials are now reviewing policies in the wake of these arrests. Extensive placement and monitoring of video cameras throughout the jail is now in the works.
Acts of Misconduct Reported by Santa Rita Jail Personnel
The deputies were reported to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in January, 2017 by staff members at the jail. The incidents supposedly occurred in the summer and autumn of 2016.
Over 40 people were interviewed during the course of the investigation. These included not only individuals working in the sheriff’s office, but inmates of the jail and inmates in other prisons throughout the state.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley stated at the time the charges were announced, “These four deputies directed, facilitated, enabled and committed sadistic and terrorizing acts against several men whose protection fell directly within the responsibility of their positions as correctional officers." She added, “There is no rational explanation for their actions aside from abject cruelty and a disregard for the humanity of the inmates.”
The deputies referred to allowing inmates to throw feces and urine at fellow inmates as “gassing attacks.” The Los Angeles Times reports that the deputies permitted a high-security inmate to leave his cells for months without waist restrains or handcuffs. The purpose – they would open the cells of other inmates, while the man carried a spray bottle or tub filled with urine or feces and threw it on other inmates through the open cell door.
Although the gassing attacks were disgusting and inhumane, they were far from the only crimes committed against inmates via the active collaboration of the deputies.
The inmate whom McDermott allegedly choked unconscious was intending to speak with investigators. Linn and McDermott got another inmate involved, asking him to inform a gang leader that the other inmate was snitching.
The two deputies then searched the first inmate’s cell, with Linn recommending in a report that the inmate face disciplinary charges. McDermott allegedly choked the inmate by “placing pressure around his neck with his arm until he lost consciousness”.
Other Recent California Prison Scandals
Other recent California prison scandals include dozens of San Bernardino County inmates accusing guards of Tasering them during meal delivery or pulling their handcuffed arms above their heads, a procedure called “chicken winging.”
In July, 2017, 32 former and current inmates settled five federal lawsuits, totaling $2.5 million, against the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and San Bernardino County.
In another Alameda County case, six people have died while in custody after scuffles with police since 2010. None of the six deaths were independently investigated by O’Malley’s office, which doesn’t automatically investigate such deaths unless a shooting is involved. In other counties, it is policy to investigate the deaths of any inmate dying in custody. O’Malley said her office only investigates such deaths when they are asked to do so by law enforcement personnel, but she would review the policy.
While the deaths did not receive a criminal investigation, the jail’s health services provider, Corizon, settled a related civil lawsuit for $8.3 million.
If you or a family member is a victim of inmate abuse or is seriously injured by prison guards, you may be eligible for compensation. Call 866.836.4684 or Email Us to learn your legal options.