A man wasn’t given a bed in L.A. County jails for 2 nights. A judge just declared a mistrial

A Superior Court judge on Wednesday declared a mistrial in a case against a man who faces life imprisonment after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department kept him in jail cells without beds or blankets for two nights.

“There is absolutely no way that a conviction would stand,” Judge Daniel Lowenthal said during the hearing at the Long Beach courthouse, according to a transcript verified by The Times. Lowenthal cited arguments from the man’s attorney that indicated his client lost concentration during the trial and was unable to assist in his own defense.

“I have lost confidence in the sheriff’s ability to provide the support needed for this process,” Lowenthal added. “A mistrial is granted.”

Court documents show the man, Vamazae Banks, 24, has been charged with three counts of robbery, one each of assault with a firearm and making criminal threats. Banks was on the third day of his trial when his attorney raised concerns about his treatment in the LA County Jail.

“My client was deprived of sleep through no fault of his own during a life-threatening trial because they didn’t give him a place to sleep with a bed or a blanket,” said Alan Nakasone, a public defender representing banks. “I think that’s unconstitutional.”

He added, “These are probably the most important three days of his life.”

The sheriff’s department, which operates the county’s jails, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

In making his decision, Lowenthal listed other failures by the sheriff’s department to handle the case appropriately. He said the agency last week defied his order to move Banks from the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic to Men’s Central Jail in downtown LA so he could be closer to Long Beach.

That would mean he wouldn’t have to be woken up at 3 a.m. to get to court on time and wouldn’t risk being held up by the sheriff’s department’s “known” lack of prison buses, Lowenthal said.

“For those two reasons, I ordered the sheriff to hold him at Men’s Central,” he said. “You do not have.”

After his first day of trial on Monday, Banks was transferred to the Central Men’s Prison. Instead of being placed in a regular cell with a bed, the sheriff’s deputies put him in a cell designed to hold people for short periods of time.

“They … kept him in the cell all night with no bed or blanket — literally all night,” Lowenthal said.

The next afternoon, Lowenthal said, Banks’ attorney asked that the day be shortened because his client could not stay awake.

When the Long Beach Police Department, which has a jail across from the courthouse, agreed to hold Banks overnight, sheriff’s officers declined the offer.

“The Sheriff’s Department has inexplicably refused to release the gentleman into Long Beach police custody despite the order of this court,” Lowenthal said. “I’ve been told they’re asking for him to be transported back downtown.”

He said the sheriff’s department promised him Banks would be given a bed and would be taken to court the next morning. “Neither happened,” said Lowenthal.

Instead, Banks was not put in a cell with a bed until 3:30 a.m. and did not appear in court until late Wednesday morning, the judge said.

The prosecutor opposed a trial and asked the judge to postpone testifying in the case until the man could rest.

“It’s not fair to penalize people for the sheriff’s department not providing what the court requested and ordered,” Deputy Dist said. atty said Tricia Halstead.

She said a trial would be unfair to the three victims in the case who testified.

“We don’t know if the defendant contributed to any of the problems that caused him not to get a bed,” Halstead said.

Lowenthal said he was also “appalled” that victims would have to relive their experience by having to testify again.

At the end of the hearing, he sent the jury home.

In addition to the bus shortage the judge mentioned, the county’s sprawling prison network has been plagued by a variety of problems in recent years, stemming from its old, inadequate facilities, insufficient staff and space for the mentally ill, and allegations of abusive MPs.

For a decade, county officials and others have called for the closure of the Central Men’s Prison, which is antiquated and overcrowded. Eventually, elected leaders came out with a serious plan to build a replacement. Those plans were scrapped in 2019 amid growing concerns about whether they were paying enough attention to treating mental illness.

The Los Angeles County Board of Trustees then voted in 2020 to develop a plan to close the derelict facility to find alternatives to incarceration for the thousands of people who are being filtered in and out of the county’s sprawling prison system.

But little has been done to get through it.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-01/mistrial-sheriff-department-jail-conditions A man wasn’t given a bed in L.A. County jails for 2 nights. A judge just declared a mistrial

Alley Einstein

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