A federal lawsuit alleges a group of Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) deputies “sadistically” tortured and killed a 33-year-old pre-trial detainee in April 2018, though law enforcement officials call the death an accident.
Tustin Police Department officers had arrested Cristobal Solano outside of the Key Lodge Motel while he suffered an anxiety attack and transported him to the county jail on a disturbing the peace-related charge.
Juan Solano’s lawsuit claims his son ended up dead because he supposedly failed to open his mouth wide enough for annoyed jail-intake deputies conducting an oral cavity search and the officers responded by attacking him.
Irvine-based plaintiff attorney Cameron Sehat claims video evidence proves the officers used excessive, lethal force.
“The deputies seem unimpressed with the manner in which Solano opened his mouth,” Sehat wrote in the lawsuit. “Solano opens his mouth wider this time, sticks his tongue out per their request. Again, the deputies seem unsatisfied and Solano can now be seen frustrated as he places both his hands on his face in an apparent gesture of emotional frustration. As a last ditch effort to comply with the deputies, he takes both his pinkies and wedges open the sides of his mouth. However, and unsurprisingly, the deputies seem zealous to further search his mouth.”
At least seven deputies put Solano, who’d already been checked for weapons, in “an extreme hold,” “forcefully shoved him against the cell glass wall,” “violently pushed his face down onto a concrete bunk,” dropped his head on the floor, twisted his limbs, kneed him in the back and placed all of their weight (estimated at more than 1,000 pounds) on him while they ignored his repeated screams of “Please, please, please. I can’t breathe,” according to Sehat.
As a restrained Solano gasped for air, the deputies continued to yell, “Stop resisting.”
The officers got their wish.
Solano became non-responsive, his face turned blue, drool dribbled out of his mouth and his pulse stopped at some point during the next three minutes, according to the lawsuit.
(After all that testosterone hysteria, there were no foreign substances in his mouth.)
Doctors took Solano off a hospital ventilator two days later and officially pronounced him dead, leaving fatherless an infant child born after the killing.
“The excessive amount of force, including the use of seven deputies to compress against Solano’s body and thereby preventing him from breathing, resulted in restraint asphyxiation,” Sehat wrote in his 29-page lawsuit.
In November, Orange County prosecutors Claudia Alvarez and Ebrahim Baytieh ended a law enforcement investigation into Solano’s demise by opining, “There is no evidence to support a finding of criminal culpability on the part of any OCSD personnel.”
Before labeling the death “accidental,” they also decided to note Solano’s criminal history and methamphetamine use as factors they considered.
Nonetheless, the civil wrongful death case will proceed inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse with U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna, a lifetime appointee of President George W. Bush, presiding.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.