Amputee Inmate Wins $504K Verdict After Guards Make Him Hop to New Cell

A federal jury awarded a one-legged San Francisco County inmate $504,000 because guards denied him the use of his wheelchair and made him hop to a new cell while handcuffed. Vincent Bell, 40, collapsed while attempting the move, and guards dragged him down the hall to the new cell, where they stripped him and left him unattended for 24 hours. The jury stated that the City and County of San Francisco violated Bell’s disability rights and failed to properly train deputies. The jury determined Bell had suffered physical and emotional harm.

The incident occurred while Bell, whose right leg had been surgically amputated, was incarcerated for taking part in a 2012 murder. The victim had been beaten and shot, and Bell is accused of providing the gun to the alleged shooter. Bell is one of six defendants awaiting trial and was being held at an SF County Jail.

On January 14, 2018, authorities at the jail wrote Bell up for “cheering during a football game,” according to The Los Angeles Times. As punishment, he was “ordered to spend 10 days in restrictive housing.” That same day, Bell submitted a complaint that a deputy had sexually harassed him.

Sgt. Yvette Williams ordered Bell to transfer cells to serve out his punishment. Sgt. Williams then ordered a cell extraction, which authorized “the use of force and …the threat of greater force” to compel Bell to move. Williams later claimed the order was necessary because “Bell had barricaded himself in the cell using his bed and mattress.” However, a video of the incident shows Bell sitting calmly in his wheelchair with his belongings on his bed.

Deputies pinned Bell to the ground during the extraction, handcuffed him, and then ordered him to hop out of the cell without his wheelchair. Bell attempted to follow orders but complained he didn’t have enough strength in his leg to continue. His complaints went unheeded, and he collapsed along the way. From there, deputies dragged Bell face down to the new cell. The jury decided Williams had used excessive force against Bell.

No one in the civil case has suggested that Bell is a solid citizen. The facts of his arrest argue strongly otherwise. He is accused of joining others in a home invasion, beating, and kidnapping of two people that resulted in the shooting death of one victim, Stephen Reid, age 26, in 2012. It’s easy to imagine Bell was a belligerent inmate and that his sexual harassment complaint was vindictive.

Even if all the facts alleged against Bell are true, law enforcement officers must carry out the law. They cannot allow their personal feelings towards an inmate to influence their behavior towards him. They certainly cannot abuse and humiliate an inmate who has been subdued and is compliant. Our justice system demands professionalism and restraint from officers, not abuse under the color of authority.

An attorney for Bell told the press, “We hope that [the verdict] sends a clear message to the city and county of San Francisco that people do not relinquish their constitutional rights once they enter the carceral system.” Given statements from county authorities that officers behaved reasonably, that message has not yet been received.