A federal jury has just awarded $504,000 to an inmate at the San Francisco County Jail who filed an excessive force lawsuit in 2018 over his mistreatment at the jail.
40-year-old Vincent Bell had one leg surgically removed and uses a wheelchair to get around, and he’s been in jail since 2012 awaiting trial stemming from his alleged role a 2012 murder — he's accused of providing the gun that was used in the killing.
In January 2018, as the Associated Press reports, a guard says she feared Bell was dangerous after he allegedly cursed at her, so she decided to move him to what’s called a “safety cell” — a smaller cell with padded walls and no toilet.
Guards said that when they tried to move him to the new cell, he resisted by putting pads on his cell door to keep them from getting in. A U.S. District Judge in Oakland, Susan Illston says video proves that was a lie; it shows he was simply sitting there in his wheelchair, waiting quietly for the guards.
The judge says that video shows that when the guards moved him, they took him out of his wheelchair and made him hop 64 feet to the other cell. He fell, so guards held him to the floor and cuffed his arms behind him, then carried him to the safety cell. Then, Judge Ilston said, the guards stripped his clothes off and left him in the cell for 20 hours.
The guards argued they took him from his wheelchair because they were worried he was storing contraband in it, as the Chronicle reports.
The jury found that one of the guards, Sergeant Yvette Williams, used excessive force. The jury also says the Sheriff’s Office violated federal disability laws by not properly training its staff on how to handle that situation. The City of San Francisco now has to pay Bell $504,000 for harm — both mental and physical — inflicted upon him in that incident.
Despite the verdict, the City Attorney’s Office still maintains that the deputies acted reasonably. A spokesperson for that office, Jen Kwart, tells the Chronicle that Bell had a history of hiding weapons in his wheelchair.
Bell still faces a charge that he provided the gun that was used to murder 26-year-old Stephen Reid in 2012. Bell was also charged with burglary after accusations that he broke into a home on San Bruno Avenue where that murder took place. He had also pleaded no contest to a credit card fraud case in San Mateo County in 2011, as the Chronicle reports.