Inmates to Be Paid for Extra Jail Time; Rights: Ventura County officials agree to settle for nearly $256,000 in a lawsuit brought by 81 people rearrested by Sheriff's Department while in custody.

Los Angeles Times October 9, 2002

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles Times

October 9, 2002 Wednesday

Ventura County will pay $255,600 to settle a federal class-action lawsuit filed by dozens of jail inmates who contend that authorities violated their legal rights by keeping them in custody for days without filing criminal charges.

Lawyers and administrators for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department confirmed the settlement Tuesday after emerging from a closed meeting in which the county Board of Supervisors authorized the payment.

"I think from the county's perspective that the settlement was very good," Oxnard attorney Philip Erickson said. "We limited the damages and we especially limited the attorney fees."

Under the agreement, which still must be approved by a federal judge, 81 former inmates will be paid between $100 and $1,250 for each extra day spent in jail.

Inmates who were never charged with a crime will receive more money than those who were charged, convicted and given credit for time served. The most any one inmate will be paid is $7,500, Erickson said.

State law requires that suspects be arraigned on criminal charges or released within 48 hours of arrest.

But for years, Ventura County law enforcement officers have rearrested suspects while they were still in custody, giving prosecutors more time to gather evidence to support charges.

As a result, many suspects who were never convicted of the crimes for which they were arrested were held for extra days.

Chief Deputy Ken Kipp, who oversees detention services for the Sheriff's Department, said that the practice of rearresting inmates was abandoned after concerns were raised nearly two years ago.

"We didn't try to fight it," Kipp said. "We sat down and said, 'We've got to fix this.' "

Plaintiffs' attorney John Burton of Pasadena said he was pleased with the "constructive and positive attitude" county officials took in solving the problem.

"We sometimes don't see that from government entities and police departments, and we certainly saw it here," he said.

Kipp called the settlement fair and reasonable. Both he and Erickson said the county could have faced a much steeper legal bill if settlement negotiations had dragged on or the case had gone to trial.

Last year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $27 million to settle five class-action lawsuits brought by inmates held in jail after courts ordered them released. The lawsuit involved about 400,000 detainees.

Although in-custody arrests in Ventura County affected far more inmates than the 81 involved in the federal lawsuit, many were excluded by statute of limitations.

Those named in the lawsuit were affected in the year before February 2001, when Burton filed a legal claim.

The settlement marks the second time the county has resolved a federal lawsuit involving improper in-custody arrests.

Earlier this year, the Sheriff's Department paid $125,000 to Westlake Village businessman Lee Mannheimer, who was jailed for several days in September 1999 on suspicion of trying to kill his ex-wife.

He was never charged with the crime and sued the county for false arrest.

The Sheriff's Department stopped rearresting uncharged inmates in December 2000, after Public Defender Kenneth Clayman filed a legal challenge on behalf of Jorge Robert Juarez.

He was arrested on suspicion of burglary and rearrested 47 hours later.

Juarez, a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit, spent 105 hours in jail without going before a judge. He later was convicted of burglary.

On Tuesday, Clayman declined to comment on the federal lawsuit. But he applauded the Sheriff's Department for ending its rearrest practice after civil rights issues were raised.

"As far as we were concerned, we had a problem that we discovered and they did the appropriate action to correct it," Clayman said.