Inmate wins $5,000 in jail-abuse lawsuit

By Stacia Glenn, Staff Writer
Article Created: 09/10/2008 09:00:16 PM PDT

A man who claims sheriff's deputies ripped out his penis piercing and denied him medical treatment while he was incarcerated at a county jail won his lawsuit last week.

A federal judge Friday awarded Anthony Alvarez $3,000 in compensatory damages and $2,000 in punitive damages for the April 8, 2004, incident.

"There is no justification or excuse for the excessive force (the) defendants used against Alvarez in ripping out his penis piercing," Judge Andrew Guilford wrote in his finding.

Despite the judge's ruling, San Bernardino County sheriff's Sgt. Dave Phelps of Public Affairs said there was no piercing, and that the deputies removed a bag of lotion tied to Alvarez's penis that was likely going to be used to smuggle contraband into the jail.

Alvarez was being held at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga on suspicion of receiving stolen property. He was convicted of the charge and released after serving his sentence.

Before Alvarez was taken to a court hearing, as per policy, now-retired Deputy Jeff Hewitt strip-searched the high-security inmate.

That is about all the two sides agree upon.

"This really was a he-said- she-said case," said attorney Shawn Kennedy, who represented Alvarez.

Also listed in the lawsuit are now-retired Sgt. Robert Balderama; Deputy Angel Garcia, who resigned; and Deputy Jose Iniguez, who still works for the department. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Orange County.

Part of the reason the judge ruled in Alvarez's favor is because sheriff's officials did not follow a court order to treat the inmate when he returned to West Valley after a hearing, according to the judge's ruling and officials familiar with the case.