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Judge OKs $1.4 million deal in California jail abuse lawsuit

A civil rights attorney said he hopes the settlement will bring "a real change in how the jail's operated."

Video released Thursday shows a mentally ill man being beaten by jail officials in California in 2017, in a case that led to the conviction of two law enforcement officials and changes to jail procedures.

The video released to the Sacramento Bee and other news outlets by Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin showed the May 14, 2017, beating of Beau Bangert at the Auburn Main Jail in Placer County, the newspaper reported.

A Sacramento judge gave final approval Thursday to a $1.4 million class action settlement against the county that alleged corrections officers used excessive force, according to the newspaper. NBC affiliate KCRA in Sacramento reported the money will be distributed to around 200 people who were part of the class-action suit.

The jail video appears to show Bangert, who Merin told KCRA suffers from schizophrenia, being hit in the face with a shield in a small cell, and then being punched by officers. They also used a Taser.

Sheriff Devon Bell said in 2017 the images were uncovered by a supervisor reviewing video footage, who then notified superiors. It resulted in criminal charges against a deputy, a corrections officer and a corrections sergeant.

Merin said Bangert, who was being held on minor drug charges, had been circling his cell and repeatedly slamming its door, which annoyed deputies, the Bee reported. Bangert told KCRA in 2017 that he was assaulted twice while in custody.

After the video was released to the media by Merin, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office said in a video that it would not do the same because of ongoing litigation.

"We brought these alleged misdeeds to your attention when they occurred in 2017, and to continue to be transparent we wanted to be the first to release these videos to you, as well, once litigation involving these incidents is over," Lt. Andrew Scott said in the video statement.

"As you see in the video that has been released to the media, the actions of the officers are troubling and represent conduct that has never been tolerated at our agency," he added.

The three who were charged in 2017 also were fired. Criminal charges were dropped against one officer, while the other two pleaded no contest to a charge of felony assault, according to KCRA.

Online court records indicate that former deputy Robert Madden and former correctional officer Jeffrey Villanueva pleaded no contest to assault by a public officer in June of last year.

The district attorney said the charges reflected six victims on six different dates and times.

Scott said that since the incident, the sheriff’s office has increased management oversight, upgraded camera equipment in the jail and provided additional training to staff on interacting with the mentally ill, among other reforms.

Bangert received a separate civil settlement of $250,000, and will get around $50,000 from the class-action lawsuit, his attorney told KCRA. The settlement also includes changes in jail policy, and inmates who believe they’ve been victimized can file grievances to be audited by Merin and the court, the station reported.

"Our view is the way changes occur is when the public can see what really goes on, and if you cloak in secrecy the behavior of deputies in jail then it goes to the lowest common denominator," Merin told KCRA.

"Hopefully, proper response will lead to discipline of officers involved in excessive-force instances and a real change in how the jail's operated," he said.