Asphyxiation in Los Angeles

Tuesday, December 3, 1996
By SCOTT HADLY, Special to The Times

OXNARD--The families of three Oxnard men who died while in police custody this year intend to file civil rights lawsuits against the Oxnard Police Department and the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. The families of Luther Thomas Allen, Fernando Herrera Jr. and Raul Madera recently sent letters to the county and the city of Oxnard asking that the Police and Sheriff's departments preserve all evidence related to the cases. On Wednesday, the families will file their claims against the departments and announce in front of City Hall at 11 a.m. their intent to sue if the city and county do not respond, according to their attorneys. Madera died in July from complications related to tonsillitis while in Sheriff's Department custody, Herrera died later that month after he was restrained by six Oxnard police officers, and Allen died shortly after an Oct. 1 drunk-driving arrest by Oxnard police.

"None of these people should have died," said Los Angeles lawyer Samuel Paz, one of three attorneys who plan to file federal lawsuits maintaining that the men's civil rights had been violated. Internal sheriff and police investigations concluded that the agencies were not to blame in the three deaths. Paz is working with attorneys Sonia Mercado, also of Los Angeles, and Samuel Heredia of Oxnard. The attorneys, who first have to file claims against the city and county, said they plan to file their lawsuits in federal court in Los Angeles early next year if the claims are rejected.


In June, the family of another Oxnard man, 40-year-old Ray Lee Carter--who died shortly after being repeatedly sprayed with pepper spray and restrained by officers--filed a $1.3-million wrongful death claim against the city. Because the city did not respond to the claim, a lawsuit was filed. Ventura attorney Ernest Bell is representing Carter's family in that case and is now waiting for a trial date to be set. Citing the Carter case and those of his clients, Paz said the fact that all the men who died in custody were minorities was not a coincidence.

"It seems extraordinary to me, and it seems that it's a problem that should raise concern to anyone who lives in the community," he said. "This could very well be anyone's son or father." Paz has handled several hundred police brutality cases, mostly against Southern California law enforcement agencies. He was nominated two years ago by President Clinton for a federal judgeship, but the nomination was later withdrawn because of opposition from police groups. Much like the Carter case, 25-year-old Fernando Herrera died while being held on the ground by several police officers during an arrest July 18. Herrera was suspected of having just broken into an Oxnard home and was resisting arrest, police officials said. Herrera had a cardiac arrest while lying on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back and officers holding him down, said Ventura County Coroner Ronald L. O'Halloran. "There was a mix of things that contributed to his death," O'Halloran said. An autopsy determined that Herrera had cocaine in his blood. He also had an elevated body temperature, and his struggle against the police hold also contributed to his death, O'Halloran said.

"Mr. Herrera was asphyxiated because six cops were sitting on him," said attorney Sonia Mercado. In the case of 55-year-old Luther Thomas Allen, who died Oct. 1 after falling unconscious in an Oxnard police holding cell, the coroner concluded that Allen died of internal injuries suffered in an earlier traffic accident. Allen was arrested after the accident on suspicion of driving under the influence. He had refused medical treatment by paramedics and did not show any external signs of injuries, police officials said. But Allen became unconscious about two hours after his arrest and never regained consciousness.


Allen's wife, Ada Allen, refused to comment on her case against the department. Oxnard police officials said that, as with all in-custody deaths, they conducted an internal investigation of Allen's and Herrera's deaths and concluded that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the department or its officers. Raul Madera, 23, was being held at the Ventura County Jail when he fell ill July 9. Madera died from septic shock due to tonsillitis shortly after being taken from the jail to the Ventura County Medical Center, said the coroner. "In this day and age, nobody should die of tonsillitis," attorney Paz said. Madera, who was serving a 390-day sentence for drug possession, had been treated over several weeks at both the medical center and by a doctor and other medical personnel employed by the jail, said Cmdr. Joe Harwell, who oversees the jail. As required, officials reported the incident to the state attorney general's office. The officials also investigated the case and concluded that officers did everything appropriately, Harwell said. There have been five in-custody deaths at the Ventura County Jail this year, Harwell said. Two of the deaths were suicides and the rest were from natural causes, he said. Copyright Los Angeles Times This information is passed along for non-profit research purposes only.

Be PART of the solution -- People Against Racist Terror/Bx 1055/Culver City CA 90232-1055/310-288-5003/Order our journal: "Turning the Tide."

Brutality and Disabilities in L.A.

Date:          Sun, 31 Dec 1995 12:10:01 -0800
From: (Marpessa Kupendua )
Subject:       BABYLON RAGE! - (PT. 2 - END)
This info comes via contributors to Bob Witanek's outstanding Police Abuse Listserve, a bold and very necessary step in the right direction for which Bob works very hard to maintain and is to be applauded for this tremendous effort, as well as the equally committed and hard-working Prison Activist Resource Center. To subscribe to the Police Abuse Listserve, send this message: subscribe pol-abuse, To this address: majordomo@igc.apc,org. ---------------

NOTE: As many of you already know, three of my young sons have been diagnosted as autistic, and I am filled with nightmarish thoughts of what their lives as young Black men in this kkkountry will be ...

Check out the following:


From: Bob Witanek 
Posted by:  
Subject: your police abuse listserve
Dear Bob Witanek, your concept was forwarded to me by another person. It occurred to me that another area of miscreance by the police is their lack of sensitivity to persons with disabilities. I have read of several cases where a deaf person got shot becuase the police failed to communicate properly becuase they didn't realize there was a problem, other cases where persons wtih cerebral palsy, whose speech is often garbled or slurred, were accused of drunkennes, or of course the multiple cases of persons with mental retardation who get caught in the maw of the criminal justice system due to their vulnerability (inability to exercise common sense or good judgement being a part of their cognitive disability) and who end up charged with heinous crimes, often in conspiracies or in group crimes where they average criminal is able to talk their way out of the situation and hang it on the person with mild MR, etc.

Anyway, if you can include this group of persons among the groups you have targeted as victims of abuse, it would surely be appreciated by the disability community. Please contact me if you have questions. By the way, Bob Williams, U.S. Commissioner for the Administration for Developmental Disabilities, within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (email is extremely interested in this issue and very likely to know who keeps track of these cases (he in fact does a lot of this tracking!) and may have funds available.....for electronic tracking of abuse of persons with disabilities in the judicial system...)

Jenifer Simpson. Governmental Activities, United Cerebral Palsy Associations, 1660 L St NW, WAsh DC 20036. P.S. I am particularly interested as a parent of a child with severe mental retardation who is very social and very easily led by others.... ------------------

From: Michael Novick 
Subject: moorhead bill

Copyright 1995/The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times
Friday, December 22, 1995, Home Edition 

Abetting Beatings by Those in Blue; Congress may cap punitive awards, thus lowering incentives for agencies to root out rogue cops.

BYLINE: PAUL HOFFMAN; Paul Hoffman, a Santa Monica attorney, is a board member of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and served as ACLU legal director from 1984 to 1994 SECTION: METRO; PAGE: B-9 TYPE: Opinion

From the 1991 beating of motorist Rodney King by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department to the revelations of racism and manufacturing of evidence on LAPD Det. Mark Furhman's tapes, reminders abound of why police officers should be held to answer for misconduct.

It is doubly difficult, then, to understand how a bill is advancing through Congress that ought to be called the "rogue cops protection act of 1995."

More than that, its sponsor is Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) and its principal advocate has been Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block.

In brazen double-speak, Moorhead has titled his bill the "Law Enforcement Officers Civil Liability Act of 1995." This legislation, which has already gone through hearings in a House subcommittee, would:

* Establish such a high standard of proof for awarding punitive damages against police officers who engage in brutality that it would be nearly impossible for juries to impose such damages-- often the only way of penalizing rogue police departments and forcing reforms.

* Limit punitive damages for police abuse victims to $10,000, regardless of the heinousness of the brutality. This limit would strip away any financial incentives to reform.

* Set strict limits on compensation for lawyers who win police misconduct cases, which are often extremely complex and require months or years of work and thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs, without any limit on the amount police departments may spend to defend such cases.

A recent highly publicized jury verdict against Torrance police officers perfectly illustrates the pernicious effects of Moorhead's rogue cop protection bill. In that case, three young Latino men won a $129,000 jury verdict against officers for stopping and abusing them without justification.

In the case of one victim, the abuse involved officers squeezing his testicles. The men had done nothing wrong. The jury believed that they were stopped because of the color of their skin.

Fully $120,000 of the jury award was in punitive damages, correctly recognizing that, although the victims were fortunate enough not to have suffered permanent injury, the police misconduct was so severe that the department needed an unmistakable message.

The jury spoke loudly, saying that in a civilized society, abuse of this kind is intolerable. As a result, the victims of police abuse were compensated and their lawyers received fair payment for hundreds of hours of work.

The Moorhead-Block effort would change all this. Under existing law, a jury may award punitive damages if police officers intentionally violate constitutional rights. This new legislation would require that an officer be proved to have intended to inflict "serious injury" beforehand.

The inevitable result will be that beatings, evidence tampering, racially discriminatory arrests and other forms of police abuse will increase-- because this bill eliminates a major incentive for departments to weed out rogue cops.

The bill does not stop there. Even if a victim met all of the new proof requirements, the most he or she could recover in punitive damages would be $10,000, a sum so inconsequential that police departments would consider such payments as an acceptable cost of doing business as usual.

In the Torrance case, punitive damages would have been barred or limited to $10,000, The attorneys would have been limited to $6,000 in fees, an amount below minimum wage for their time.

Block has argued that the bill is necessary because police officers live in fear of losing their homes if they are sued successfully. Curiously, there is no record of any such case. The reason: Departments always pay the judgments.

It has long been national policy to encourage ordinary people without financial means to seek legal redress for governmental misconduct. These cases must be taken by attorneys who understand that their clients can't afford to pay them. For decades, the law has permitted recovery of "reasonable" attorney fees in such cases--unless this bill becomes law.

It may currently be fashionable to advocate for the limitation of attorney fees, but this view ignores the fact that most awards in police abuse cases are modest in view of the time and financial investment a lawyer must make for his or her clients. Judges already have the power to prevent the awarding of "unreasonable" attorney fees. There is no need for the arbitrary limits imposed by this bill.

The only purpose of the Moorhead bill is to make it impossible for most victims of police abuse to bring civil rights lawsuits against the officers who mistreated them. This may be what rogue cops want, but it does not serve the interests of justice or police accountability in this or any other community. GRAPHIC: PHOTO: PAUL HOFFMAN Copyright 1995/The Times Mirror Company

Text of PART flyer for January demo at Moorhead's office:



"The Law Enforcement Officers Impunity Act"

Police abuse and criminality is a national problem. Recent cases in southern California include the exposure by two sheriff's deputies of evidence planting by the Sheriff's department; several LAPD detectives were kicked off the force for fabricating confessions with forged signatures and lying on the witness stand. In Philadelphia, thousands of cases are being overturned because of similar criminality by police. Yet just when corrective measures are most urgently needed, we are in danger of losing the ability, as people victimized by such police abuse, violence and corruption, to seek redress in the courts!

Lame-duck Congressman Carlos Moorhead (Republican/Glendale- Burbank), planning to retire, has introduced a bill into Congress (HR 1446) which would limit the use of federal civil rights law in civil lawsuits against abusive or corrupt cops. Moorhead's bill, which is already moving quietly through Congress, would hold police. prison and jail guards liable only in cases where they intentionally inflicted unlawful serious personal injury. Moreover, in those few cases that the law would permit, it restricts monetary damages to $10,000.

Many officers have objected recently to being seen as "Mark Fuhrmans." Yet this outrageous bill is a free pass to the Fuhrmans who are still on police forces to carry out all sorts of civil rights violations short of torture, maimings and murder! The bill extends to covering conduct by off duty law enforcement officers "in circumstances indicating a law enforcement response." Police operations in every locality in the US are being increasingly federalized, with the US Army providing training and weapons, and Clinton's crime bill directly funding payrolls. Now Moorhead's bill would throw a federal shield of impunity over police criminality and

abuse! We need tighter systems of police accountability, not a law that gives corrupt or brutal cops a "get out of jail free" card! Moorhead's stealth bill, misleadingly titled the "Law Enforcement Officers Civil Liability Act" sends exactly the wrong message at the wrong time!

Martin Luther King Day
Monday, January 15, 1996 12 noon
outside Moorhead's Office:
420 N Brand, near Lexington, Glendale

Sponsored by People Against Racist Terror (PART) PO Box 1990, Burbank CA 91507. Info: 310-288-5003.

Endorsed by Coalition Against Police Abuse (CAPA) Further endorsements pending.

------------- From: (PeaceNet Prison Issues Desk)


CONTACT: Peter Y. Sussman, President Northern California Society of Professional Journalists (510) 845-1311


The Northern California chapter of the nation's largest and oldest association of journalists today (12/29/95) denounced the decision by state officials to cut off all media interviews with state prisoners for an unspecified period of time.

"Our entire system of government is based on the public's right to know about the operation of public institutions," said Peter Y. Sussman, Northern California president of the Society of Professional Journalists. "Prisons are public institutions - in California right now they are both newsworthy and controversial institutions - and no law or court ruling gives prison officials the right to hog-tie news media reporting for capricious reasons. Judging from the public comments of state prison officials, the reasons for the current ban on interviews are capricious in the extreme, based on political motivations not grounded in security or other legitimate penological concerns."

State officials, in revealing the ban on prisoner interviews by news organizations, claimed that the ban is temporary, pending review of current policies to separate "mainstream" or "legitimate" news organizations from "entertainment news, like radio or TV talk shows."

SPJ's Sussman responded that there was no authority for prison officials to decide which journalists were worthy of reporting on prison issues. "Freedom of the Press was enshrined in our Constitution specifically to guarantee the independence of the news media to report on issues of public concern," said Sussman. "That independence does not exist when the very officials whose actions are being scrutinized are allowed to direct the news coverage. Especially at a time when prison issues are near the top of the public agenda - and when the state Department of Corrections has lost high-profile court suits challenging treatment of high-security and mentally ill inmates - it is imperative that the media have unfettered access to the prisoners whose rights have been upheld in court. Filtering of those reports through the prison bureaucracy is inimical both to the press' constitutional right to report on government affairs and the public's right to know how its government is conducting its business.

"It is true," Sussman continued, "that some Supreme Court rulings give prisons a narrow right to limit media access to prisoners, but that right is based on the special security concerns of prisons and not on the political or personal whims of state officials. And even where security is a legitimate issue, the Supreme Court has highlighted the special and protected role of the media in covering prison issues."

The assistant secretary of California's Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, J.P. Tremblay, has been quoted in media reports as defending the interview ban. Tremblay said, according to the reports, "Why should some guy benefit from committing a crime? We did this because we didn't want to have inmates becoming celebrities and heroes." He also is quoted as saying, "Our concern is that we do not want to have criminals glamorized or made celebrities by these types of shows. It goes counter to the purpose of incarceration, which is punishment for crime."

Sussman, a longtime San Francisco journalist who has co-authored a book dealing in part with media-prisoner First Amendment issues, maintained that Tremblay's stated concerns were political in nature and therefore illegitimate. "He appears to be concerned about prisoners' glamor, whatever that means, and for this reason - and not for the security reasons that might arguably justify such actions - he is willing to discard the public's and the media's cherished First Amendment guarantees. Well, the members of the Society of Professional Journalists - and I believe the public - are not willing to so easily relinquish their rights of citizenship."

# # #

Prison Activist Resource Center / PeaceNet Prison Issues Desk \
 PO Box 3201 Berkeley CA 94703 - ph:510/845.8813 fx:845.8816 
For progressive & radical info on prison issues, send e-mail  \
to  for details on many resources.     /
   SEE OUR WEB SITE -->     
SEE OUR GOPHER -->, choose #3, then #14 

From: Bob Witanek 
Posted  Fri Dec 29 20:56:19 1995
E.G. Smith's Books To Prisoners

For the past two years us folks at E.G. Smith have done what we can to help those held hostage by the state. We have offered books free of charge, donated dictionaries, typewriters, and whatever was needed.

The last 8 months, response has been absolutely incredible. We can't keep up with all of the requests physically or financially. Since E.G. Smith's incarnation, our standard deal for prisoners has changed once. Not to offer less but to make things a bit easier on our side. Unfortunately our finances haven't allowed us to keep up with the current $15 credit to prisoners every month. So we have been forced to go with a $15 credit to each prisoner every 3 months. This is a pretty drastic change, considering what we want to give, but the fact of the matter is the money allotted for prisoner books is just not there. The people who have ordered from us and said to donate whatever extra for the Prisoner Book Project has been an incredible help, and we appreciate the generosity, we urge all people who order from us to do the same. A dollar here and a dollar there add up quickly.

One of the options we have been considering to lighten the load on the Books to Prisoners program has been to start a Mailorder Prisoner Library Project. This project enables circulation of printed material that might otherwise be too expensive or not obtainable to those being held in the numerous penitentiaries across the country.

Starting with one copy of every title from E.G. Smith's entire titlebase, we hope to see the variety of material available grow. offering a wider selection of fiction, educational, and reference material.

Unfortunately this idea hasn't taken off as well as we would have liked, due to the broad base of rules and regulations regarding material coming into prisons. We have run into problem policies at some prisons that say books donated to prisoners must be new. Obviously once a book has passed through a few peoples hands the book no longer appears to be new. These kinds of repressive policies, vary from prison to prison, making it virtually impossible for this kind of project to work. We are considering contacting these prisons directly about allowing our project to extend into their prisons. We are open to comments and/or suggestions as to how to put this project into action and make it accessible to all who would benefit.

Some ways you can help with our existing prisoner book project are: * If your a publisher please consider donating books to the project. * Sending Cash specifically for the project is always the most helpful. * Adding a buck or two to the total of your order and mark the new space on the order form specifying that it is for the prisoner book project. * If you do a zine or political paper please donate several copies for the prisoner book project. * We are currently working on setting up benefit shows, releases, etc. to help financially with the project. If you are in a position where you can set up some type of benefit for the project please do so.

We have been sending out an average of about $600 a month in books for the project. The month before this article was written we sent out $523.12 worth of books. The cold financial figures probably shouldn't be mentioned but the financial strain on the volunteers involved who always cover what isn't there is becoming more relevant as the project continues to grow.

We have decided from here on out to include a section entitled "Letters from the Inside" in our catalogs. This space will be used to print letters from prisoners seeking correspondence, or prisoners in need of books, literature, or whatever else that might not be easily obtainable from the inside. If you publish books, or a zine, or put out anything that you feel would be appropriate to send please do so.

This Weeks Requests we haven't been able to fill 12-24-95 thru 12-30-95: ----------------------------------------------------------------------