Jury awards $840,000 to LA County Jail inmates who suffered broken bones, head trauma

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A Los Angeles jury Thursday awarded five men a combined $840,000 in damages for broken bones and head trauma suffered at the hands of L.A. County Sheriff's Deputies.

In August, 2008, in the high security wing of Men's Central Jail, inmates were protesting conditions in the jail. A number barricaded themselves in their cells and allegedly pelted deputies with chunks of porcelain that had been torn from sinks and toilets. 

The ensuing crackdown, caught on video, showed deputies hurling concussion grenades and dragging limp, bloodied inmates from their cells. 

The lawsuit, alleging excessive force, named a sheriff’s captain, a lieutenant, three sergeants and 23 deputies. After five weeks of trial, jurors agreed on most counts and awarded actual damages to the plaintiffs: $200,000 each to Carlos Flores, Juan Carlos Sanchez and Erick Nuñez; $150,000 to Juan Trinidad; and $90,000 to Heriberto Rodriguez. 

The inmates suffered injuries including a broken ankle, a broken vertebra, an orbital fracture, head trauma, and seizures as a result of deputies allegedly hitting, kicking and kneeing them, the lawsuit alleged. 

During trial, a number of deputies testified they were worried the inmates had weapons. 

“The inmates in the 3100 and 3300 units are the most violent in the L.A. County Jail system,” testified Sgt. Matt Onhemus, one of the defendants in the case.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, attorneys for the plaintiffs celebrated the verdict.

"What this means is that the Constitution works," said attorney Ron Kaye. "Jurors found that these individuals deserve to have civil and human rights protected." 

Jurors return to court Tuesday when they'll consider whether to award punitive damages as well. Attorneys did not say how much they're planning to ask for. 

The county counsel's office, which defended the county and sheriff's employees in the case, declined to comment, as the case is ongoing. The $840,000 in damages will be paid by the county. 

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