A former California sheriff’s deputy allegedly doused a mentally ill inmate with scalding water, causing severe burns to his hands that weren’t treated for hours, prosecutors said.
Guadalupe Ortiz, who was fired Friday by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, allegedly filled a cup with hot water on April 1 at an intake center in Santa Ana to get a non-compliant mentally ill inmate to remove his hands from a hatch door, District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Monday.
“The inmate again ignored orders to put his hands back inside his cell and Ortiz is accused of pouring the scalding water on the hands of the inmate, causing him to immediately pull his hands back inside his cell,” Spitzer said in a statement.
Ortiz, 47, and two other deputies then left after one of them shut the hatch door. The inmate – who had first- and second-degree burns to his hands — did not receive medical attention for more than six hours, Spitzer said.
Another deputy ultimately spotted the inmate’s “red and peeling” arm and got him medical help.
“The law imputes a special duty of care on custodial personnel and in this case, the sheriff’s deputy completely breached that duty and crossed the line into criminal conduct,” Spitzer said. “And now a deputy is throwing away a 22-year-career for inflicting unnecessary harm on a mentally ill inmate out of frustration.”
Ortiz, who was charged with felony counts of assault or battery by a public officer and battery with serious bodily injury, faces up to four years in prison if convicted. He’s set to be arraigned on Jan. 11.
An attorney for Ortiz told the Orange County Register the ex-deputy had used the “least force necessary” to end the incident with the mentally ill inmate while claiming prosecutors misinterpreted his actions.
“The deputy splashed part of a cup of water, mixed hot and cold, not steaming, on one forearm of an aggressive inmate to distract him to move his arms so that his cell door could be secured after an hour standoff,” attorney Paul Meyer said in a statement. “The mixed water was too warm and caused primarily 1st-degree red skin and irritation, according to the DA’s own expert.”
Meyer said the charges marred Ortiz’s otherwise “unblemished record” of more than two decades and sends a “wrong signal” to deputies who consider other alternatives to physical force.
A sheriff’s department spokeswoman, meanwhile, disputed that characterization, saying Ortiz’s actions were an “isolated occurrence” that do not reflect the level of care provided to inmates, the newspaper reported.