By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Twenty-six years after a federal judge ordered the Orange County Sheriff's Department to fix its overcrowded and filthy Men's Central Jail, inmates are allegedly still being beaten, harassed and illegally prevented from regular access to their families and lawyers.
In March, a federal jury in Santa Ana awarded $600,000 to an African American inmate who claimed racist deputies known inside the jail as the "Psycho Crew" regularly beat him. More than a dozen other black inmates complained of similar treatment.
Now, the lawyer who filed the class-action lawsuit that led to the court order is asking the federal judge who imposed it to hold a courtroom hearing on random abuse of inmates at the jail.
"Inmates of the Orange County Jail awaken at night to the screams of other inmates being beaten," Laguna Beach lawyer Richard Herman wrote to U.S. District Judge Gary Taylor on July 31. "Vestiges of the Psycho Crew gang of racist jail guards, [who] once focused on beating African American inmates, are now randomly beating inmates."
Herman told the Weekly that while most deputies who made up the Psycho Crew have left the jail, one still works at the facility: Deputy Amal Hamidinia. "Hamidinia is one of the people involved in the Psycho Crew abuses," Herman said. "He is the last active ringleader still in the jail."
Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman John Fleischmann refused to discuss Hamidinia or the inmates' specific allegations. "We categorically deny there is any type of rampant beatings or abuse by any of our deputies," he said. "We run one of the safest jails in America and put inmate welfare very high on our list."
But two inmates claim they joined a hunger strike after jail officials refused to move Hamidinia out of their unit. Jeffrey Newland, who is being held on burglary charges, said the hunger strike began the day after Hamidinia beat another inmate in his unit so severely that the prisoner suffered four broken fingers. "That's why we went on a hunger strike," he told the Weekly. "Hamidinia beats us up and we're tired of it."
"Deputy Hamidinia is a straight psycho cop," Newland continued. "And he has a wrecking crew. He doesn't pull you out of your cell by himself, he has six or seven other cops help him. The whole reason we didn't say anything about the other cops is that when they come into our area by themselves, they are fair and decent cops. They listen to you. But no matter what, they back up their own."
According to Newland, Hamidinia pulled him out of his cell four months ago, after he passed a copy of Surfer magazine to an inmate in an adjoining cell. "He told me I'm disrespecting him and breaking jail rules," Newland said of Hamidinia. "He pulled me into the stairwell on the fourth floor where there aren't any cameras, and he put my hands behind my back, kicked my legs apart and tore the hamstring on my right leg. Then he started giving me rib and kidney shots."
After the alleged beating, Newland said, Hamidinia lectured him for 10 or 15 minutes about not breaking jail rules.
Vicente Aranda has been in jail on suspicion of vehicle theft and possession of stolen property since June 20. He says he hasn't been physically assaulted, nor has he seen other inmates abused, but claims that Hamidinia has constantly harassed him. "Since the day I got here, he gave me constant write-ups for different things," Aranda said. "For the first 22 days, I had no day room, so I could not contact my family."
Disciplinary reports filed at the jail by Hamidinia concerning Aranda show that, on one occasion, Aranda lost day-room privileges for five consecutive days because he "had his vent covered in his single-man cell." Aranda lost access to the day room for another five days when he "lied about being given a shower the day before."
According to Fleischmann, jail policy provides that inmates can be disciplined any time they violate jail policies. "If it's a first offense, the inmate is likely to get a verbal warning," he said. "For a later offense, he's likely to have day-room privileges suspended. You have to take into context whether this person has a history of insubordination."
Despite their relative openness, inmates said they feared reprisals for talking to reporters. "The deputies are yelling, 'Who's the rat?'" said Newland. "It's far out. The cop in question is the one who gave me the pass to come down here and talk to you. He said, 'You better not back down. You're always breaking the jail rules.'"