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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Jail inmate claims he was tortured

Video fails to show abuse alleged in lawsuit

A Spokane County Jail inmate claims in a federal lawsuit that he was beaten without warning by a cell extraction team and later tortured with blows to his genitals.

One problem: As Nicolas Garcia’s recent lawsuit notes, the Sept. 21, 2009, incident was filmed by a Discovery Channel television crew.

The video, which aired in a February episode of the “Behind Bars” show, belies much of what Garcia alleges.

“It would be almost laughable if it weren’t such serious stuff that he’s saying,” said jail Lt. Aaron Anderton.

Garcia, a Los Angeles resident, was being held on federal charges.

Garcia’s attorney, Jeffry Finer, should be held accountable for failing to review the television footage before filing the lawsuit, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Thursday afternoon. Finer was not immediately available for comment.

The lawsuit contends that a specially trained “critical response team” entered Garcia’s cell without giving him an opportunity to cooperate with a search for weapons and other contraband.

The lawsuit says Garcia was asleep when the officers entered his cell. They allegedly failed to ensure that Garcia heard commands to come to the cell door and extend his hands through the food slot so he could be handcuffed.

But the video, which Knezovich played for The Spokesman-Review, clearly shows Garcia standing near a window in the door when an officer gave loud instructions.

“Come to the door and cuff up,” the officer ordered. “Squat down, put your back to the door, put your hands out the food slot.”

When Garcia failed to obey, the instructions were repeated: “Do as you’re told. Put your back to the door, put your hands out the food slot.”

Garcia attempted to crawl under his desk and bed when at least four officers rushed into the cell and piled onto him.

The video shows a scuffle in which Garcia may well have been injured.

However, there is no evidence that officers threw Garcia to the floor and battered his head against the concrete, as he alleges.

Nor does the video show that officers “proceeded to strike and beat him with fists, knees, elbows and such equipment as they had at hand (clubs, flashlights, etc.),” as alleged.

The television program shows Garcia being led to a shower room for a strip search but doesn’t show what happened.

Rather, the program goes on to show the extraction team helping an inmate who poisoned himself with seeds that contained cyanide.

It also shows a September 2008 incident in which extraction team member Dan Leonetti’s neck was broken in a violent struggle with murder suspect Cole K. Strandberg.

Knezovich agreed with Garcia that the film crew was nearby when Garcia was searched. Knezovich said he planned to check for unused footage.

Garcia alleges that he was “forced to shower in front of five ninja-style commandos” – extraction team members wear black face masks under their helmets – while an officer aimed a pistol at him.

He claims he was struck twice in the genitals with a police baton.

Knezovich questioned why anyone should believe Garcia’s account of the search in view of his inaccurate version of what happened in his cell.

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