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Santa Clara County Jail Guards Accused of Brutal Retaliation Against Inmate

Video obtained by the ABC7 I-Team gives an inside look at a troubled jail system with several questionable inmate deaths over the past year.

Some people believe inmates deserve whatever they get, but think about what one expert told I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes after seeing the video. When you assault someone on the street, that's a crime. You can't turn around and do the same thing in jail, whether you are a guard or an inmate.

Rikki Martinez arrived at Santa Clara County's Main Jail the night of April 18. Within minutes, he was bloodied and bruised by guards.

Martinez' attorney, Robert Powell, told the I-Team, "To me, it's 100 percent a set up from the get-go and it was decided before he got there."

Martinez' attorney said it all began at the county's other jail, Elmwood. Martinez and his cellmate got into an altercation with guards over the wine or "pruno" they made. Martinez allegedly kicked a deputy in the face, a charge he denies.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office video picks up later that night as Martinez gets transferred to administrative segregation in the main jail. A guard says, "This inmate was involved in assault on staff." Martinez appears compliant.

When the guard tells him, "What I want you to do is turn around, face that wall," he quickly follows the directions.

The deputies take Martinez to a cell on the fourth floor. One officer tells him to kneel on the bed. The leg shackles come off, and his left handcuff, then it turns bad. The guard tells Martinez to relax, then five officers force him down onto the bed.

You can't see punches landing, but you can hear impact. The federal civil rights lawsuit Martinez has filed says, deputies "pummeled his head, neck and shoulders with punches." The damage to his face and head is visible afterward.

Dan Macallair told the I-Team, "You have the right to protect yourself. Once someone is subdued and under control, you don't have the right to hit someone."

Macallair is executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a professor at San Francisco State, and an expert on correctional policy. He believes the guards used excessive force, and is troubled that they made Martinez walk backwards and held his head down for nearly 10 minutes, even though he complained he couldn't breath.

Macallair said, "Sad to say it's not unusual to have staff retaliate against an inmate, kind of a hidden retaliation, one that's off the books."

One guard told Martinez, "If you keep assaulting staff, you're going to have some problems. We don't need any problems, all right?" Martinez answered, "I'm not assaulting anybody, sir, please."

Because of the lawsuit Martinez filed, the county counsel's office and Sheriff Laurie Smith declined an interview. Just six days before the Martinez incident, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Improving Custody Operations recommended finding new leadership for the jails.

Judge LaDoris Cordell headed the commission and concluded on April 12, "Continued supervision of the jails by the sheriff is not in the best interests of the inmates, the correctional officers, or the community."

The Blue Ribbon Commission was launched after the beating death of inmate Michael Tyree last year. Three guards have pleaded "not guilty" to murder charges.

Martinez' mother says everyone has rights, even a repeat felon like her son who came to jail this time facing assault with a deadly weapon and drug charges.

Teresa Dominguez said, "I know society looks down at anybody who is incarcerated or in jail, but they're humans just like you and I. They could be your family member."

Martinez complained about the guards to the jail's nurses, "They had me cuffed up and kicked my ass."

Robert Powell said, "And right now, they're doing that to her son, but you don't know that it isn't going to be your cousin, your favorite uncle, or someone else another day."

The Sheriff has launched an internal affairs investigation into what happened. Robert Powell wants it known that Martinez passed a lie detector test when he said he did nothing to incite the violence in the cell. Polygraphs are usually not allowed as evidence in court.


Keywords: correctional officers, Daniel Macallair, guards, jail, retaliation, Santa Clara County, use of force

Posted in CJCJ in the News, Social Justice

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