A counselor working for the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department claims in a federal lawsuit that guards for years mistreated youthful inmates, then conspired to hide the abuse.
"There's kicking, beating, all those things, and those are only the things I directly know of," said Alfred Lam, who filed the lawsuit Oct. 25 as a federal class action on behalf of San Francisco minors. "I'm the only one standing up right now. I hope more people stand up."
Lam said he has contacted the U.S. Attorneys office with his allegations. This was the second lawsuit against the department Lam filed in October. On Oct. 19 he sued alleging a pattern of racist discrimination against Asian and Pacific Island employees.
In response to an inquiry, Juvenile Probation Department spokeswoman Allison Magee said "Those certainly aren't practices in the department. But I cannot comment on pending litigation."
In his lawsuit, Lam alleges that guards routinely abused kids at juvenile hall.
He alleges that a medical officer was forced to leave the department after reporting that an officer forced an inmate to drink piss from a urinal. Lam claims a lieutenant was allowed to quietly retire with full benefits after he was reported to have seduced and had sex with a female minor inmate.
The lawsuit describes 21 alleged abusive incidents in unusually precise detail, creating the impression that juvenile hall guards act with impunity, then intimidate other staff into helping cover up.
According to the federal complaint, in February a sergeant and an officers insulted and "endlessly" provoked a minor. The kid threw a banana at one of them. The officers responded with "unreasonable, excessive physical force," and the next day filed felony assault charges against the minor, Lam claims.
"Not only does this show a total disregard for decency, it also shows a "cover up" through abuse of process!" Lam's lawsuit said.
Also according to the suit, in April 2007, a 300-pound officer challenged a 150-pound juvenile hall inmate who "may have a sexual orientation issue," to a fight. The kid ended up with "significant bodily injuries including a bloody face and deep lacerations to his arm," the suit alleges.
In Sept. 2007, an officer purportedly used "unnecessary physical force" on a youth causing "injuries to his face and neck," the suit alleges. Lam claims two officers observed the incident. A lieutenant and captain were aware of it, as were medical staff members, yet no abuse was reported.
"The medical staff members chose to keep quiet at the expense of the minors' safety," Lam's complaint says.
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