Three Placer sheriff’s officials accused in jail abuse case plead not guilty
New allegations of inmate abuse and cover-ups at the Placer County Auburn Jail are surfacing with claims by a former inmate that he was beaten and had his testicles groped by an officer who already faces abuse charges involving six other inmates.
The allegations are contained in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento against Placer County Sheriff Devon Bell, Officer Jeffrey Villanueva and other officials.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of former inmate Derek Conner by attorney Patrick Dwyer, alleges that Conner was the victim of an “unprovoked attack” when he was awakened in his cell on Sept. 6, 2015, by Villanueva.
Conner, 33, claims in the lawsuit that he was wearing only boxer shorts when Villanueva ordered him out of bed and subjected him to a full, pat-down search that was conducted “in an aggressive and sexually suggestive manner, including grabbing (Conner’s) penis and testicles very hard and then lingering and feeling (his) penis, testicles and surrounding area.”
The lawsuit claims that although Conner “did not resist out of fear,” Villanueva slapped his head into the metal bed frame. Then, the suit claims, another group of officers came into the cell and roughed him up, stepping on his bare feet with their boots and “twisting him like a pretzel.”
Later, Conner claims, he was taken to a booking area and forced to the floor and beaten despite him saying he suffered from a prior brain injury and spinal problems.
At one point, the suit claims, while he lay on the floor, Conner pleaded to a female deputy that he was naked and cold and was met with this response: “I’m glad.”
“There was no purpose to the abuse,” the lawsuit says. “It was the result of poor emotional control, attitudes of superiority and sadistic pleasure seeking by Placer County Sheriff’s Office correctional officers.”
Conner claims he has faced other abuse by Villanueva, including the officer “spreading false rumors” that he was a snitch and tossing his cell several times a month. He claims that when he finally filed a grievance he was never given a copy and does not know if it ever was reviewed.
Villanueva could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He and two co-workers have pleaded not guilty to charges filed in May that claim they were involved in inmate abuse or cover-ups of such abuse at the Auburn Jail dating back to November 2016.
The sheriff’s department has declined to comment on such lawsuits.
Sheriff Devon Bell said in a May press conference that jail authorities detected the abuse on their own while doing routine reviews of video and reports and that they acted immediately to suspend the suspected officers and, eventually, arrest them. In addition to Villanueva, authorities have charged Sgt. Megan Yaws and Deputy Robert Madden. They also have pleaded not guilty.
The sheriff has insisted he will not tolerate abuse in his jails and noted that the alleged wrongdoing was discovered by his own department.
However, since the announcement the department has been named in at least four civil rights lawsuits claiming abuse at the Auburn jail had gone unchecked and that video and audio recordings have been altered or ignored to cover up alleged wrongdoing.
One of the suits seeks class-action status to represent hundreds of former and current inmates.