Norberto Santana Jr. and Tony Saavedra, Orange County Register, April 20, 2009
County officials have agreed to pay more than $4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by an undocumented Mexican immigrant who was beaten by inmates while in custody at the Orange County jail, the man’s attorney said Monday.
The settlement appears to be the largest ever paid by Orange County for an in-custody incident involving county sheriffs, according to county officials and the man’s lawyer.
Fernando Ramirez, then 21, was left brain-damaged by inmates in Module A at the Orange County Central Jail in June 2006. He was jailed after a 6-year-old girl told her mother a stranger touched her over her clothes on her private parts at El Salvador Park in Santa Ana. Ramirez was charged with child molestation but eventually pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of non-sexual battery, said his attorney, Mark Eisenberg.
But Eisenberg said the jail’s classification of his client contributed to the attack because other prisoners became aware of the sexual assault allegation. Deputies in charge of monitoring the jail that night were elsewhere in the jail when the attack occurred, Eisenberg said.
The ensuing beating left Ramirez with the intellect of a 4-year-old child. He is unable to walk unassisted and will need help for the rest of his life, said Eisenberg.
Eisenberg said a final settlement was approved Apr. 17 and described the amount as $3.75 million for Ramirez’s family along with nearly $900,000 to cover all outstanding medical liens for medical care rendered while in custody.
Eisenberg called the settlement “fair” noting that it will take care of Ramirez’s medical needs for the rest of his life. He credited county officials for “stepping up and doing the fair and responsible thing.”
While County Supervisor John Moorlach would not comment on the details of the Ramirez settlement, he did say that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has turned around a lax culture within the jails.
Moorlach also said several changes–such as cameras, more visible and mobile guards and a full shuffling of top managers–has helped to begin changing the culture that contributed to the Chamberlain and Ramirez beatings.