Placer County jail inmates talk about officers arrested for alleged abuse
Anthony Skeaton showed up for his hearing in Placer County Superior Court on July 9, 2013, planning to plead guilty in what authorities say was a pending weapons case.
At the time, 24-year-old Skeaton was free on bail. He was also apparently under the influence of drugs, something Judge Colleen Nichols and lawyers in the case both noted.
"The difference between Mr. Skeaton on a regular day and today is marked, marked," the judge said, according to court records. "He has – his entire voice has changed, his mannerism has changed, he is holding his head, he is now crying.
"These are just completely different than every other time I have seen him. Now, I have seen him other times when he was clearly under the influence and he was very difficult to deal with, but that is not what I'm seeing here today."
The judge and lawyers agreed Skeaton was not "clean enough to enter a plea," court records say, so his bail was revoked and he was sent to the Auburn Main Jail.
Within two days, Skeaton was dead, the apparent victim of a seizure from pills he either had smuggled into the jail or was given while he was going through withdrawal from opiate use.
Now, nearly five years after Skeaton's death, Placer County officials have agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit over the death for a payment of $110,000, Sacramento attorney Mark Merin said.
"It appears that he overdosed on drugs or responded to drugs that were taken while he was in custody," Merin said. "There were a couple of witnesses who have no reason to lie who were also in jail with him. They saw him breaking up pills and snorting them."
Merin, who filed the suit on behalf of Skeaton's mother, Murlene Spinks, said the county should have placed Skeaton under a special medical watch, given that his courtroom behavior made it clear he was under the influence of some kind of drug and that "he was going through an opiate withdrawal."
Placer County officials confirmed a settlement agreement had been reached, but said there was no admission of fault in Skeaton’s death.
"The county can confirm that it has entered into a settlement agreement with Ms. Spinks, the mother of Anthony Skeaton, for all claims arising out of Mr. Skeaton's death from a drug overdose while in custody," Supervising Deputy County Counsel Brett Holt said in a statement. "An internal investigation indicated that somehow Mr. Skeaton had obtained smuggled drugs while incarcerated and overdosed after taking those drugs.
"Upon learning of Mr. Skeaton's overdose, the county personnel made immediate attempts to save Mr. Skeaton's life. The settlement, which includes Ms. Spinks attorney fees, effectively resolves all claims arising out of Mr. Skeaton’s death.
"The county does not admit liability for Mr. Skeaton’s death, but believes it is in the best interest of all parties to resolve this matter and move forward."
Spinks acknowledged that the settlement amount is small, considering that her son died, but added that she hopes the case will spur officials to be proactive in enforcing their own policies and protecting inmates.
At the time, the sheriff's department had a policy calling for an inmate suspected of being under the influence to be checked every 15 minutes, she said, and she does not believe that happened.
Spinks also questioned whether the pills were her son's or if he was given them in the jail.
"That’s a very low settlement, as far as that goes, but I think by them wanting to settle it is showing that they are owning some of this," she said. "What I would like to see is them using the policy. It's one thing to have a policy. It's another to use it, if that 15-minute increment would have saved my son."
At the time of his death, sheriff’s officials said in a news release that Skeaton began suffering a "medical problem" at about 11:30 p.m. on July 10, and that two officers responded and sent him to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The settlement is the latest in a series of legal challenges for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, which has faced allegations of mistreatment and beatings of inmates under the administration of former Sheriff Ed Bonner.
Current Sheriff Devon Bell announced in May 2017 that an internal investigation had uncovered alleged abuse inside the jail and three jail officials were charged in the case.
Charges against one of the three later were dismissed, but the case has since spawned at least seven federal civil rights lawsuits against the department, including one settled for $100,000 last year.
In that suit, the county admitted no wrongdoing, instead saying the decision to settle "is a step forward in an overall strategy to address allegations of improper activity by certain officers at the Auburn Jail."