Family members of Sonoma County inmates read letters of abuse

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- As we reported exclusively on Monday, former inmates have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Sonoma County Sheriff and County Government. They're charging that they were beaten and tortured by deputies.

On Tuesday, their families spoke out and read letters from inmates describing beatings in the Sonoma County Jail.

The sheriff has already denied that excessive force was used, but the attorney for the plaintiffs said that means nothing because the sheriff, in his memory, has never ever substantiated any claim of excessive force in his jail.

Karina Arongo read a letter from her brother Jesus who says he was beaten mercilessly May 28 in the maximum security unit of Sonoma County Jail.

Jesus' letter read: "They beat me until I sh*t in my pants. I was crying to tell them to get off and that I couldn't breathe."

Laurie Banks, the mother of former inmate Danny Banks, said, "He stayed on his bed. Yeah, he buried his head, he didn't want them to come in, but they did. He was the last one and he was beaten."

VIDEO: EXCLUSIVE: Inmate describes alleged abuse by Sonoma County Jail guards

Danny spoke exclusively to ABC7 News on Monday and recalled his terrifying experience. He said, "Guys in black came in and they were all wearing masks, hitting us and calling us bit** and telling us that it's their house and that they can beat us."

Banks' lawyer Izaac Schwaiger told ABC7 News on Monday the guards "proceeded down the tier, one locked room after another, opening them, entering them, multiple deputies."

Some two dozen inmates wrote letters, saying they were systematically beaten one by one, the attacks lasting five-and-a-half hours. It started when one of them got into an argument with a deputy. The rest, they say were then beaten when they protested.

Sheriff Steve Freitas responded by email, saying he'll investigate but that "we categorically deny the outrageous and inflammatory accusations."

He says deputies were responding to "the actions of a seemingly coordinated mass disturbance by inmates."

Schwaiger's had a response to the sheriff's statement. He said at the press conference, "What's the riot? What's the riot? They're confined to individual cells and all of these people were handcuffed before the beatings began."

Schweiger believes the sheriff has video of the incident, which he says will show the truth.
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