One-legged inmate awarded $504,000 in excessive force suit

Mar 31, 2022, 9:15 PM | Updated: 9:26 pm

A jury has awarded $504,000 to a one-legged San Francisco jail inmate who was taken from his wheelchair and forced to hop to a cell.

The federal jury awarded damages on Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by Vincent Bell against the city.

Bell, 40, was one of six people charged with taking part in the 2012 murder of a man who was beaten and shot. He’s accused of providing the gun used by the alleged shooter and is awaiting trial.

Bell, who had one leg surgically removed, was being held at the jail in January 2018 when he was ordered moved to a smaller, padded “safety cell” because a guard said he had cursed her and was dangerous.

Guards said Bell resisted and put pads on his cell door to block them from entering. But a federal judge who refused to dismiss his suit last year said a video showed him waiting quietly in his wheelchair when they arrived, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Bell was taken out of his wheelchair, handcuffed and told to hop to the cell 64 feet (19.5 meters) away. He fell on the way and was carried face-down to the cell, where he was stripped and held for 20 hours, the judge said.

The jury found that a guard, sheriff’s Sgt. Yvette Williams, used excessive force and that the Sheriff’s Office violated Bell’s rights under federal disability laws by failing to properly train its staff.

The verdict should send the city “a very clear message … that it must accommodate persons with disabilities and that deputies do not get to supplant their personal judgment for the judgment of medical professionals in the jail,” EmilyRose Johns, a lawyer for Bell, told the Chronicle on Thursday.

The city attorney’s office remains “adamant that the sheriff’s deputies acted reasonably and appropriately when placing and transporting” Bell, who had a history of hiding weapons in his wheelchair, spokesperson Jen Kwart said.

Bell was charged in connection with the December 2012 death of Stephen Reid, 26, who had recently arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area from Georgia.

Prosecutors said Bell, another man and two women stormed into a home on San Bruno Avenue and beat, gagged and hog-tied Reid and an 18-year-old woman, then put them in an SUV where Reid was shot before dumping both on a street. Reid died at a hospital. Authorities say the victims knew their alleged attackers.

Four people pleaded guilty to various charges in the case. The alleged shooter, Montrail Brackens of Oakland, has pleaded not guilty to murder.

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One-legged inmate awarded $504,000 in excessive force suit