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  • Ed Abdallah

    Joshua Abdallah required treatment for head trauma after jail deputies subdued him.

  • Ed Abdallah

    Joshua Abdallah in a family photo.

The Public Eye: County settles case involving jail beating by deputies

Published: Sunday, Aug. 12, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012 - 11:12 pm

Joshua Abdallah has some pretty wild dreams, but never one that conjured up what happened at the end of that awful day more than two years ago.

He was sure things had bottomed out when he was arrested in midafternoon and tossed in jail on May 27, 2010.

Yet in less than four hours he would be lying semi-conscious in the emergency room of UC Davis Medical Center with injuries from a beating at the hands of sheriff's deputies. He spent six days there and two more at a psychiatric hospital.

In all the times he had been in Sacramento County's Main Jail – for convictions ranging from burglary to drunken driving – he had never experienced or witnessed brutality by deputies, he told lawyers. He discounted stories he'd heard as fabrications or exaggerations.

But the "blunt head trauma, liver laceration/ hematoma, blunt trauma to the chest, blunt injury of the abdomen, nasal fracture, and facial lacerations" documented in medical records are not fabrications. The scar on the bridge of his nose, where he says he was kicked, is a reminder of the brutality.

A week after Abdallah was released from the hospital, his father, Ed Abdallah, who is a registered nurse, sent a certified letter to the Sheriff's Department requesting an internal investigation. After six weeks without a response, he sent a second letter. Six days after that, attorney and civil rights advocate Mark Merin filed an administrative damages claim against the county.

On Dec. 29, 2010, Ed Abdallah received a letter from Sheriff Scott Jones saying an investigation "revealed a lack of substantial evidence to support your claim." The case was classified as exonerated.

That wasn't the final word, however. Last month the county paid Joshua Abdallah and Merin $75,000 to settle a short-lived federal lawsuit.

Both sides cited language of the settlement agreement: "It is the intention and desire of the parties to settle and dispose of any and all claims to avoid the further expense, uncertainty and burden of protracted litigation."

After graduating from Florin High School, Abdallah, by his own account, fell in with some bad people, got into substance abuse, was treated sporadically for a serious mental illness, and compiled a criminal record.

Just off parole and free to leave Modoc County where he lives near relatives, Abdallah was in Sacramento to transact business with the Social Security Administration. Permanently disabled since 2004 due to paranoid schizophrenia, he lives on monthly disability and Supplemental Security Income checks and has government-sponsored health care.

Court papers, and jail and medical records, tell this story.

For an indefinite period, Abdallah's mental illness had gone untreated, and that day he was crashing hard from a methamphetamine high. He had missed the bus back to Modoc County and needed lodging for the night. He couldn't remember the last time he had eaten and he was extremely dehydrated.

As it started to rain, he made his way to the Casa Linda Motel on Folsom Boulevard but was $3 short of the $50 room rental. He recalled putting on a dry shirt and socks and a jacket and trudging up Folsom Boulevard toward the light-rail station at Butterfield Way when he saw a Sheriff's Department car approaching.

"I had a feeling they were coming for me" – that's just the kind of a day it was, he told John Lavra, an outside litigation lawyer for the county.

According to Sheriff's Department records, a motel guest at 3:18 p.m. reported a white male adult "running around outside yelling and banging on doors" in his underwear. Less than 20 minutes later, Abdallah was arrested for public intoxication.

He is described by deputies in jail records as noncompliant from the time he entered the booking area.

Surveillance cameras silently captured the time he spent at the downtown jail. The 2 1/2-hour video obtained from Merin doesn't appear to show him as noncompliant, but Abdallah admitted in deposition testimony that he complained bitterly to deputies about the unfairness of his situation.

The video shows that in the drunk tank, he was in perpetual motion, pacing, lying down, springing up and fidgeting mainly with his clothes, taking them off and putting them back on.

He banged on the cell windows and door, hoping to get somebody's attention. He later testified he wanted to put a tooth implant with his confiscated property. None of the others in the tank can be seen reacting to him.

Shortly after 6 p.m. deputies decided to moved him into what they refer to as a safety cell, according to a deputy's "casualty report."

The video shows they placed Abdallah in a control hold – arms bent upward behind him – and took him to what he calls "the hole." They put him face down on the floor and handcuffed him as he wiggled and tried to raise and turn his head toward them.

"I could hardly mutter a word before I already (had) been subdued," he recalled. "Whatever I tried to say, it didn't matter."

Next, the video shows, the deputies pummeled him until he was unconscious.

Despite the video record, deputies claimed Abdallah fought them.

"Instead of dropping to the floor, plaintiff performed a jumping/turning somersault-type maneuver in the air," Lavra wrote in a legal brief. "He immediately began resisting officers, thrashing on the ground, twisting, refusing officers' instructions, refusing to place his hands behind his back, and kicking at officers. …

"In order to gain compliance … one officer utilized three to four distraction blows to the plaintiff's face and torso. But it did not work."

Abdallah "continued to thrash, kick, and twist … and another four distraction blows were used," Lavra recounted. "These shocked plaintiff to the point where three officers finally gained control."

Deputy Christopher Nelson describes 11 blows in a casualty report written immediately after the incident.

Spokesman Deputy Jason Ramos said last week that the department "stands by the use of force application that occurred during this incident. I have seen the video of this incident, and it is clear Mr. Abdallah took actions that required the deputies to use the level of force that they did in this case."

Neither Lavra's brief nor Nelson's report mention a kick by the officers, and there is none clearly visible on the video. Nonetheless, Abdallah insists a kick broke his nose.

The video shows Abdallah motionless on the floor with up to five officers at a time observing him as minutes ticked by. Officers grabbed his legs and dragged him, leaving a two-foot trail and a large pool of blood on the floor.

Finally, the jail nurse was summoned. She instructed deputies to call paramedics. They arrived at 6:29 p.m., bandaged Abdallah's face and head, wrapped his rib cage, applied a neck brace and placed him on a board and later on a gurney, still unconscious. He was admitted to the UC DavisMedical Center emergency trauma unit at 7:05 p.m.

Abdallah was never charged with anything.

During his hospital stay, he was treated for schizophrenia. After six days, he was transferred to Sierra Vista psychiatric hospital.

Abdallah is back in Modoc County. He soothes himself by working out three or four times a week. He told the UC Davis doctors that he does not believe he is schizophrenic, just paranoid.

"But being paranoid is a good thing," he assured them, "because if the cops beat you up, wouldn't you be paranoid?"

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Denny Walsh



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