Three Placer County sheriff’s officials were arrested Wednesday on charges involving allegations of excessive force against at least six jail inmates and falsifying evidence, the result of what Sheriff Devon Bell is calling “an extensive investigation” that included video recordings and other evidence.
The arrests of corrections Sgt. Megan Yaws, Deputy Robert Madden and corrections Officer Jeffrey Villanueva came after a probe that began with a supervisor reviewing routine video footage from the Placer County jail in Auburn, the sheriff’s department said in an announcement. After the initial review of video indicated evidence of abuse, “management discovered other incidents and determined actions of the officers appeared unreasonable,” the statement said.
Bell appeared to choke up as he discussed the arrests at an afternoon press conference, saying the abuse apparently began in November and was first detected two weeks ago.
“This is sad and unfortunate,” he said, stressing that the “conduct was limited to a very small number of people” and that the department discovered the incidents on its own.
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“We discovered this ourselves,” he said. “We investigated it ... and we made arrests.”
Bell would not discuss details of the alleged abuse, saying concurrent criminal and internal affairs probes prohibited him from doing so. None of the inmates required hospital treatment.
Bell said the sheriff’s department will review all video from jail facilities in Roseville and Auburn to look for any other instances of wrongdoing.
The jail maintains 366 days of recordings at both Placer County facilities.
Officials said the routine review of videos two weeks ago did not match up with a use of force report, sparking further investigation.
“It raised some red flags to the point where we started pulling video to see if there was a pattern,” Bell said.
Bell said he would have liked to release the incriminating video to the public, but the Placer County District Attorney’s office has requested he not do so. “It could color people’s perspectives of what happened,” he said. “It’s an ongoing criminal investigation and due process is absolutely key when you’re talking about justice.”
“The video was compelling,” he added.
The District Attorney’s office said in a statement after Bell spoke that it was investigating six different potential victims. The sheriff originally named four alleged inmate victims, but the department later clarified they were investigating a total of six.
The three department employees were arrested at their homes on Wednesday and had been placed on administrative duties earlier away from inmates. None would agree to be interviewed as they were being booked, officials said.
Officials named four inmates – Jacob Gillespie, Jordan White, Phillip Daley and Beau Bangert – who allegedly among those subjected to abuse, although they said it was unclear whether they had filed any grievances.
Daley and Bangert were still in custody Wednesday, and Bangert’s mother said in an interview with The Bee that her son had only complained of mistreatment once, when he told her he had been subjected to prolonged use of a stun gun against him.
“He never told me,” Linda Hartman said of her son. “I guess he was afraid to talk.”
Hartman said her son, 26, was homeless and had been in custody regularly for minor drug possession and other charges, and added that she was surprised at how forthcoming the sheriff’s department was in announcing the arrests.
“I’m amazed that someone actually took action,” she said.
Hartman later declined to elaborate, saying her attorney, Jeffrey Guyton, asked her not to speak further.
Guyton declined to comment on whether he was pursuing legal action against the sheriff’s department, saying he had just learned of the allegations.
In a jailhouse interview early Wednesday evening, Bangert and Daley gave conflicting accounts of versions of their treatment while in custody.
Bangert said he was confronted by a group of officers about two weeks ago. He had hit his head against the cell wall and was transferred to another unit to be placed on a suicide watch. There, he said, he was confronted by a man who resembled Madden in a group of several officers.
“They just came into my door and were like, ‘Beau come here. Put your hands behind your back,’ ” Bangert said. The man who resembled Madden began to hit him, he said. Other officers who were there didn’t hurt him but watched or held him down.
Daley said he did not know why he was named as an alleged victim in the investigation.
“I’ve never been touched or harmed by those officers,” he said. “I don’t know what they are talking about.”
He said he doesn’t physically interact with officers anyway because he’s in solitary confinement.
“It’s nothing but honor in here,” Daley said.
According to the statement from Bell’s department, “Deputy Madden is charged with four counts of assault under color of authority, without necessity, and three counts of falsification of an incident report. C.O. Villanueva is charged with one count of assault under color of authority, without necessity, and one count of falsification of an incident report. C.O. Sgt. Yaws is charged with one count of falsifying police reports. There is video and other evidence to support these arrests.”
The sheriff’s office later said it was adding two counts of assault under color of authority against Villanueva.
Bail for Madden was set at $100,000, for Villanueva at $75,000 and for Yaws at $15,000.
Yaws had been with the department for two and a half years, McFadden for a year and a half and Villanueva for four years.
A department Facebook post last April announced Yaws’ appointment.
“Megan has more than 10 years of experience in corrections, most of that time working for the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office,” the post stated. “She started here 1 ½ years ago, and in that short amount of time she became a Jail Training Officer (JTO) and she frequently works as a shift supervisor.
“In El Dorado County, Megan was a JTO, worked in the Gang and Classification Units, and served as a shift supervisor and transport officer. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from California State University, Sacramento. Megan has great leadership skills, and we have every confidence she will make a great correctional sergeant.”
A December 2015 post stated that Madden was joining the department after 10 years with Truckee police.
The three officers have been placed on administrative leave, and Bell said that “under no circumstances will unethical or illegal conduct be tolerated under my watch.”
“The culture of our organization is founded upon public trust,” Bell added. “ Our core values determine how we conduct ourselves on- and off-duty, regardless of difficulty; it is the Placer County Sheriff’s Office contract with the community we serve.”