A war veteran who claims he was falsely arrested, beaten, and almost died due to neglect in an Oakland prison has launched legal action against the jail, claiming his pleas for help were ignored.
Kayvan Sabeghi, 33, was arrested during an Occupy rally in Oakland, California, in November last year. Video footage shows him being beaten with batons and he suffered a lacerated spleen which his attorney Dan Siegel says almost killed him after he was left without treatment for 18 hours in prison.
Siegel estimated damages in the case will be upwards of $1m but said his main aim was to change the practices at the jail. “The greater concern that he has is that there be some changes at the jail. It’s a big problem that the county has privatised health services in a public jail and that the company that’s doing it is more concerned about making money than providing quality care.”
A private company, Corizon, is hired by the prison authorities to take care of the medical needs of prisoners at Glenn Dyer. Corizon is named as one of the defendants in the suit, along with the county of Alameda, Sheriff Gregory Ahern and an officer at the county sheriff’s office.
On arrival at the prison Sabeghi told medical officers that he had been beaten by police and he offered to show them his injuries.
Corizon staff are accused of refusing to look at Sabeghi’s injuries.
The suit claims that his condition deteriorated and that despite showing severe distress and vomiting, Sabeghi did not receive treatment for 18 hours and was mocked by prison guards who dismissed his suffering as heroin withdrawal symptoms. It further claims that one officer filmed Sabeghi as he lay on the floor in agony and vomiting.
By the time his friends posted his bail, at 2pm the following day, he was so ill he could not lift himself from the concrete floor of his cell. Four hours later his friends came to the prison to get him out and an ambulance was called.
“There are a lot of people taken to jail who have substantial medical problems,” said Siegel. “There are a lot of people with drug and alcohol problems and they need to be adequately cared for … When you have guards who ridicule people with health problems, that’s a setup for failure. Maybe there are some who exaggerate their symptoms but I think they should all be checked out and if someone continues to complain, they should be given the benefit of the doubt. At least get a doctor.”
The suit further claims that a medical staffer did take Sabeghi’s blood pressure but reported, wrongly, that he was a diabetic and alcoholic and sought no further treatment for him.
But the authorities in Oakland have rejected the claims. Sgt JD Nelson, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, denied any mistreatment and insisted video footage would show officers promptly assisting Sabeghi and arranging an examination. “As his condition worsened, we got an ambulance there,” Nelson said.
Yet Siegel responded that it was clear to other prisoners that Sabeghi was in genuine distress and they asked guards to get help but were ignored.
He added: “Contrary to what the sheriff department’s spokesperson said, it was not the case that they responded with any urgency. They only took it seriously when his friends bailed him out and he was unable to leave.
“He came close to dying. His doctors said so. He had a ruptured spleen and he was bleeding internally, which is why he got progressively weaker.”
Sabeghi served tours as a ranger in Afghanistan and Iraq and is no longer in the army. On his return to civilian life he ran a bar in Oakland for a time but has since given that up.
He has said he was not participating in the Occupy rally the day he was arrested, but merely trying to get home when he was confronted by police in riot gear. When he refused to change direction he was beaten.
Video footage posted on YouTube shows him receiving a number of blows with police batons before being arrested. He was not charged with any crime.