-- The Butte County sheriff Thursday responded to claims by a mentally
disabled inmate that guards beat him without provocation Monday, by
seeking criminal assault charges against the prisoner.
Sporting a bruised face and swollen black eye in court Wednesday,
James Lee Mathews, 37, told a judge he was attacked by at least three
guards when he was unable to comply with orders to raise his arms as he
was being taken to the jail law library.
"This is what you get when you sue," the injured inmate said.
Mathews, who has been diagnosed as suffering from a cognitive
mental disorder called ADHD, currently has a $3 million federal lawsuit
pending against the county over allegations that a guard broke one of
his arms in the jail in 2005 and allowed him to be assaulted by other
inmates when he protested the denial of his medication.
Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff said Thursday he referred a
complaint to the District Attorney's Office, asking that misdemeanor
charges of battery on a correctional officer be filed against Mathews
in connection with Monday's jail incident.
The sheriff claims the inmate "attempted to kick" three or four
jailers and left "a small mouse" under the eye of guard Patrick
Narvais, as well as scrapes and scratches to his leg and knees during
the Aug. 27 melee, a latter portion of which Reniff confirmed was
The sheriff contends all inmates must submit to a pat-down for weapons before they are brought into the jail's library
when legal interns from Chico State University are present.
At a mental competency hearing Wednesday, Mathews told Superior
Court Judge James Reilley he was unable to raise his arms because of a
"The next thing I know my face is being smashed against a wall"
and at least three jailers got on top of him on the floor, making it
difficult for him to breathe, he said.
Although he was cleared by jail medical staff to be returned to
his cell following the incident, Mathews claims the is still "urinating
For the third time in as many years, Mathews was found mentally incompetent to stand trial on Wednesday.
Mathews, who has been in custody for more than three years
awaiting trial on several theft-related, drug and evading police
charges, was twice committed to Napa State Hospital, only to be
restored to legal competency both times and returned to the jail.
Turning to face a reporter in the courtroom to show his swollen
face during his latest competency hearing Wednesday, Mathews told the
judge that in retaliation for him suing and helping other inmates,
"they have been messing with my pills," causing him to relapse mentally
in the jail.
"It doesn't just mess me up for one day, it messes me up for a
couple weeks, especially right before the (mental competency) doctors
come, or before I have court," the inmate charged.
"But I'm going to continue to stand up for the other inmates, even if it kills me," the heavy-set inmate vowed.
Saying he wanted to get the mentally disabled man out of the
local jail for his own safety as soon as possible, the judge has
ordered a placement hearing for Mathews next week, which will likely
result in him being returned to Napa.
Meanwhile, Mathews' Sacramento civil rights attorney, Ellen
Dove, said she planned to visit him at the jail Thursday with a camera
to try to document his latest injuries.
Mathews' mother told the Enterprise-Record that after she
received phone calls from several other inmates describing the alleged
jail assault on her son, she sent e-mail and letters to the court and
sheriff's officials in protest.
"I expect you to go and check into this, it is not right, and
the guards that do this and are allowed to get by with it, should be
dealt with ... and dealt with very strongly so the other guards that
are thinking of doing this to someone again, which you know and I know
they do and will again, maybe they will think twice before they do it,"
wrote Betty Mathews.
She claims that her son is now being kept in an isolation cell,
allowed out only for about 45 minutes a day to shower and exercise.
During his impromptu court testimony Wednesday, the Chico
inmate charged that because the state does not recognize ADHD as a
treatable disease, thousands of mentally disabled prisoners in
California are being deprived of needed medication.
"This is what they do when you stand up for your American rights," the injured inmate told the judge.
Reniff said although filing additional charges against Mathews
will likely prolong his stay in the county jail, "if we don't do so, we
send a message to the inmates that it's OK to assault our correctional
The sheriff said because of Mathews' pending federal lawsuit,
he could not comment on the mentally disabled inmate's claims he is not
receiving his prescribed medication in the county jail.
"All I will say is that we are looking forward to a civil trial for a resolution of that case," said the sheriff.