Many readers were incredulous to learn the San Bernardino County Grand Jury assessed several of the county’s detention facilities during this session and other than a few cosmetic issues, found everything was as it should be—professionally managed with good impressions of staff/inmate interactions.
According to the 2014-2015 Grand Jury Report, inspections were completed at the California Institution for Men, Central Juvenile Detention and Assessment Center, Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center, High Desert Juvenile Detention and Assessment Center, Rancho Cucamonga Superior Courthouse Holding Area and the San Bernardino County Justice Center Holding Area.
In its report the Grand Jury determined, “There are no major discrepancies found at any of the five county detention centers the grand jury inspected.” The report emphasized how personnel were knowledgeable and professional during each site visit.
These revelations were greeted with cautious skepticism in light of the allegations of atrocities that surfaced last year of guard-on-prisoner brutality at the county’s West Valley Detention Center. The allegations, raised in four separate lawsuits last May came almost concurrent with the announcement of an FBI investigation focused on similar concerns.
In the suits plaintiffs alleged they were subjected to electric shocks to their genitalia, were deprived of sleep, had shotguns placed to their heads and were sodomized. In court documents, the inmates further revealed how they were handcuffed with their arms behind their backs, causing extraordinary pain
This year’s Grand Jury report used verbiage exactly similar to verbiage included in the 2013- 2014 Grand Jury Final Report—“There were no discrepancies found at any of the five County Detention Centers the Grand Jury inspected. All personnel during each site visited were knowledgeable and professional.”
This year’s Grand Jury Final Report, like last year’s, will be controversial for what was not investigated; what the report did not reveal. The one glaring difference in this year’s report is the jury gave itself plausible deniability—it did not visit the notorious West Valley Detention Center. Last year, the same was not true.
By conveniently omitting the West Valley Detention Center from its list of inspection sights this year it was easy for the jurors to ignore the brewing controversy. Last year, although it was not so easy to ignore since the West Valley Detention Center was one of the visited sites; surprisingly, somehow the jurors managed to ignore it.
Last year, a detailed review of the 2013-2014 Grand Jury Final Report by The Voice showed the jurors conducted their field inspection of the West Valley Detention Center on September 9, 2013. Admittedly, this was well before the stories of alleged torture surfaced in April, 2014. However, the Final Report also revealed there was something during their 2013 visit that prompted the jurors to later request information from the facility beyond what the jurors observed during their September 9th visit. Although the jurors visited three other detention facilities and a holding facility that session, West Valley was the only place where jurors documented a request for further information. Why?
Was this additional request the result of a red flag that raised some unspecified concern(s), concern(s) the jurors ultimately chose to ignore? After all, their initial notation on the official inspection form for the West Valley Detention Center showed, “Impression of staff/inmate interactions: Good”. However, the document also noted a total of 230 minor inmate grievances per month filed by inmates and a total of 10 major incidents. Certainly, the West Valley Detention Center has a much larger capacity than the other detention facilities but these numbers appeared way out of proportion to what was identified at the other centers.
During their visit to West Valley Detention Center the jurors also made note of one suicide, ten attempted suicides and a total of four deaths by other causes. The causes were identified as: one by natural cause; two as the result of pre-existing conditions; and, one homicide.
Without explanation as to why the request was made, the 2013-14 Grand Jury Final report documented its request for copies of the West Valley Detention Center’s incident reports for the period September 2012 to September 2013.
In response to this request, the jurors received three boxes of reports. The reports included “additional information relating to inmate suicides, attempted suicides, homicides, in-custody death investigations, assaults on staff and inmate-on-inmate assaults.”
According to the documents there were twenty attempted suicides and one suicide; four natural deaths; one murder; 366 inmate-on-inmate assaults and 41 assaults on staff. (Curiously, there were no numbers detailing staff on inmate assaults).
After examining all of these reports the Grand Jury determined, “each and every incident was handled appropriately according to policy and procedure.”
This information was a clear indication the jurors themselves were obviously curious about activities at the West Valley Detention Center; but, it does not explain why they released a final report last July with such a glowing assessment of the county’s detention facilities (including West Valley Detention Center) after all the negative information that was already in the public arena about the allegations of torture; an FBI investigation; an internal investigation by the sheriff department’s command staff; civil lawsuits; and, deputy terminations at the West Valley Detention Center.
Critics still wonder why the 2013-2014 Grand Jury Final Report omitted such critical information. After all, the Grand Jury is mandated by law to inquire into the conditions and management of public jails. Critics of last year’s report complain the jury failed in its fiduciary responsibility.