SANTA ANA (CNS) - A former “Real Housewives of Orange County” cast member's son who is facing attempted murder charges and an inmate involved in a notorious jail break are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed today alleging civil rights violations by the county, including improperly monitored inmate phone calls.
Joshua Waring, who faces charges related to a drive-by shooting in Costa Mesa, and Jonathan Tieu, one of three inmates who escaped from Orange County Jail in January 2016 are plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit against the county and sheriff's department.
They are joined in the suit along with several Orange County attorneys
“The investigation into the underlying facts began with (Waring's) issue that pro pers (inmates who represent themselves without an attorney) including Joshua Waring, who have court orders for unmonitored telephone calls, were, in fact, being monitored, recorded, and the recordings were given to the police and district attorneys, who listened to the calls,” the proposed class- action lawsuit alleges. “During the investigation other issues came to light. All of those issues are the product of a flawed jail culture.”
Sheriff Don Barnes defended his department's practices, but declined to comment on the specific claims in the lawsuit.
“County Counsel and I will review the lawsuit and respond accordingly,” Barnes said.
But, he added, “At first glance many of the allegations are rooted in a perspective that is anti-accountability. While I understand some disagree with the concept of jails, the fact is that they are the best means available for keeping dangerous offenders out of our community. As I stated when I took office just three months ago, I believe our deputies do a great job in fulfilling the responsibility for care and custody of our 6,000 inmates. However, we must always strive for improvement and as sheriff I have worked diligently to improve our operations evident by the jail reorganization announced last week.”
The lawsuit also alleges violations of access for the disabled, and alleges a wrongful death of a newborn in the jail.
Sheriff's officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The suit seeks a temporary restraining order to ensure access to religious services for inmates restricted from doing so because they are in protective custody. The lawsuit alleges that “more than 400 prisoners in the Orange County jails are denied religious access because they are classified” in protective custody for a variety of reasons.
The lawsuit cites the inmate phone scandal that erupted last year when it was revealed that the county's phone provider for the jails -- Global Tel Link -- dropped dozens of attorneys from a “do not record” list after a software update.
The attorneys who have joined the lawsuit include Stephen Bartol, Walter Cole and Ronald MacGregor.
“Plaintiffs are either attorneys whose communications with clients or prospective clients in the custody of the jail, present or former inmates whose calls with attorneys were monitored and/or recorded by the jail, or present or former inmates who were representing themselves and whose calls were monitored and/or recorded, including when there were court orders allowing them unmonitored phone calls related to their legal cases,” the lawsuit states.
Waring recently unsuccessfully tried to convince a judge in his attempted murder case to dismiss charges against him because some calls he made from the jail when he was legally representing himself were recorded and monitored by law enforcement.
The lawsuit alleges that “the number of unlawfully monitored and recorded calls numbers at least in the tens of thousands, and is likely in the hundreds of thousands.”
The sheriff's department “negligently, recklessly or intentionally failed to monitor and supervise its agent GTL's compliance with basic constitutional and statutory requirements and (the sheriff's department's) purported policies to not record attorney-client and pro per case-related calls,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that many inmates are “locked down 23 hours a day,” which exceeds a legal limit of 22 hours, “and for no penalogical purpose.”
The lawsuit claims that “Limiting dayroom and out-of-cell time for outdoor exercise and meals exacerbates the mental health issues of even otherwise healthy prisoners, let alone most of the prisoners in the Orange County jails, who are suffering stress-related mental health problems.”
It alleges that when inmates are given time to do outdoor exercise it is at 5 a.m. “when it is too cold” and then deputies “falsely” log it as “refused.”
The lawsuit also cites the death of inmate Ciera Stoetling's newborn in May of last year. Stoetling advised a jail nurse she was having contractions May 11, but when she tried to summon assistance with an emergency button it went unanswered, according to the lawsuit.
The jail nurse eventually “refused to take her to the hospital because of lack of staff,” the lawsuit states.
The inmate gave birth on May 12, but the baby died “due to lack of medical care,” according to the suit.
Tieu's claims revolve around being placed in “disciplinary isolation” following the escape.
During the 23-year-old's time in custody since he was 16 he “was isolated from religious services, mental health care -- limited to being asked if you are suicidal, which gets you transferred naked in the rubber room with all contact cut off -- and educational programs including mental and medical health care programs and received cold meals,” according to the lawsuit.
Tieu, as a result, “has suffered mental and physical deterioration and distress,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit claims the telephone violations should result in a $500 million reward.