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MCSO settles with family of man nearly beaten to death in jail

Posted at 8:59 PM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-11 09:32:19-04

The family of an Arizona man almost beaten to death inside the Maricopa County 4th Avenue Jail has reached a nearly $12 million settlement.

Brian Ortiz was just 18-years-old when the incident happened in 2020.

That’s when his attorneys say another inmate stomped and beat him, but the attack went unnoticed.

“Where were they? Where were they?” Selene Ortiz, Brian's mom, still wonders.

Video from Maricopa County shows where Ortiz was being held which is called "closed custody."

“It’s for the most dangerous violent criminals,” said Brian’s attorney Tony Piccuta.

Piccuta said Ortiz went to jail after violating his probation, for not paying a fine.

His original charge did involve an assault on a law enforcement officer, but Piccuta says that was an accident that stemmed from a fight in juvenile detention.

“What MCSO was doing was allowing three of these inmates out around each other at the same time,” said Piccuta.

The attorney said the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office calls this "modified closed custody," but it isn't anywhere in their protocol.

In the video provided to ABC15 by Piccuta’s firm, Scottsdale Injury Lawyers, you can see Ortiz enter inmate Xavier Fregoso's cell.

At 7:41 a.m. you see Fregoso attack Ortiz, beating and kicking him over 40 times.

At one point in the video, it appears Fregoso celebrates.

Then at 7:50 a.m., it appears Fregoso realizes Ortiz isn’t moving. At that point, the video shows the inmate dragging Ortiz to his own cell and trying to clean up the scene.

“He was dragged back in and tucked into bed so to speak, and he did lay there and seize for a significant period of time in his cell,” said Piccuta.

“The security guards of Sheriff's [office] could have prevented that incident,” said Selene.

Deputies performed multiple floor checks. It was over 90 minutes before staff noticed Ortiz was not okay.

That's when dozens of staff show up, but Ortiz wasn't loaded into an ambulance until over two hours after the attack.

“The jail didn't call me,” said Selene. “I got a call from the hospital, and they told me my son was dead."

Selene told ABC15 that she told the hospital that wasn't possible, and when she finally found Ortiz, he was handcuffed to the hospital bed.

She refused to take her son off life support, and Ortiz was in a coma for over two months.

“He remembers everything he knows,” said Selene. “I'm his mom he knows who he is, he knows everything.”

His mom said Ortiz is learning to walk with help from a walker, but he will need therapy and care. The family said his life won’t be the same.

“As far as I know all the deputies that were involved that we had allegations against are still employed,” said Piccuta.

ABC15 reached out to MCSO about the deputies. A spokesperson said they would have to do more “research” on if the deputies involved in this lawsuit were still employed.

In a statement, Sheriff Paul Penzone said jails are "inherently dangerous" and blamed the delay in providing aid on "operational shortcomings."

The following is Sheriff Penzone's full statement on the case:

I offer my heartfelt apology to the Ortiz family as we conclude the litigation regarding the violent attack against Mr. Ortiz that occurred while in our custody in 2020. It is my expectation and our commitment that everyone in our care and custody is entitled to a safe and healthy environment. MCSO works hard to ensure the safety of the inmates, officers and all working in the jail facilities. Unfortunately, jails are inherently dangerous given many of those incarcerated are violent criminals, like the inmate who attacked Mr. Ortiz. Although MCSO meets or exceeds national best practices, the subsequent delay in our recognition of the event and engagement to provide aide occurred due to human and operational shortcomings. This is not an excuse, yet it is a reality in the complex environment that exists within the jail setting. The officers involved did not violate any MCSO policy and it would be unfair to blame our officers as the complexities of their job, which are beyond that which most outside of law enforcement experience, do not allow for human error.

As the Sheriff, I will not overlook nor excuse our organizational limitations. We have and will continue to seek ways to more quickly identify violence within the jail walls and to mitigate the threat to anyone under our supervision. We continue to seek artificial intelligence technology, expanded staffing opportunities and operational measures to improve our every action on behalf of the community we serve, and that includes the inmate population.

The cost to our taxpayers due to this incident is considerable and I am disappointed. The cost to Mr. Ortiz’s health and future cannot be measured.

The Sheriff said no MCSO policy was violated, and they are seeking ways to identify violence more quickly in the jail. Specifically, the sheriff said they are looking at things like new technology and expanded staffing.

But Ortiz's family told ABC15 they want action.

“That what happened to my son doesn't happen again, because I wouldn't want another mother to suffer everything I've suffered,” said Selene.

Fregoso has been charged for the assault seen in the video.

A trial is set for later August 2022.