A one-legged 40-year-old San Francisco County inmate was awarded $504,000 in damages in a civil rights case after being denied the use of his wheelchair and forced to hop to his cell by jail officials. The inmate, Vincent Bell, had his right leg surgically amputated and was confined to a wheelchair. On January 14, 2018, he was held as a pre-trial detainee. Bell was written up for cheering during a football game. His punishment involved 10 days in restrictive housing. Four days later, he was ordered to transfer cells.
Cell Video Footage Contradicts Police Report
Sgt. Yvette Williams ordered a cell extraction and transfer of Bell on January 18 after filing a complaint against a deputy for sexually harassing him. The deputy, meanwhile, claimed he had cursed at and harassed her.
Williams claimed Bell had barricaded himself in his cell with his bed and mattress. However, video footage contradicts this allegation, as it shows Bell simply sitting in his wheelchair, belongings neatly on his bed. According to the complaint, Bell was pinned down, handcuffed, and made to hop 64 feet to the new cells without his wheelchair. When he could no longer physically hop because his leg had tired, he collapsed on the floor.
Williams then ordered him to stand before the team dragged him facedown to a padded “safety” cell. Once inside, he was stripped naked and had a rosary necklace cut off. Bell was left there for 24 hours.
The city attorney remained adamant that sheriff’s deputies acted appropriately as Bell had a history of hiding weapons in his wheelchair.
In federal court, the jury awarded Bell $504K and found that Williams and the team had used excessive force against him. The jury found that Bell’s disability rights were violated. The city and county of San Francisco did not train deputies properly on the use of a Special Operations Response Team and the safety cell.
Still Awaiting Trial
Bell was charged with participation in a 2012 murder in which the victims were beaten, hog-tied, and dumped on the street. Stephen Reid, who had recently arrived in San Francisco from Georgia, was shot and killed in the incident. He is still awaiting trial and is accused of providing the gun to the alleged shooter. Bell is currently housed in a San Francisco county jail located near San Bruno.
A Clear Message to the City
Bell’s lawyer said the verdict sent a “very clear message” to the city that people with disabilities required accommodation. According to the lawyer, they do not relinquish their constitutional rights once they enter the carceral system.
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