JOSHUA TREE — A former inmate at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department jail in Joshua Tree is suing the county and local deputies after a week in custody left him in a medical crisis that he says caused him to lose both legs and a hand.
Perry Belden, 28, of Twentynine Palms, got into a physical fight with his stepfather on March 16, 2018. His mother, Robin Olds, who is also listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, called the Sheriff’s Department.
Belden, who had previous convictions for grand theft and obstructing an officer, fled the scene and spent the next 10 days sleeping at friends’ houses or on the street. Olds said in her complaint that during that time, deputies got a warrant for Belden’s arrest and went to her house twice a day looking for him.
Belden decided to surrender to deputies on March 27, 2018, and Olds told deputies where he was staying. Olds alleges at least a dozen deputies responded to the location armed with assault rifles. Frightened, she said, Belden shut the front door and hid in the attic.
After deputies deployed pepper spray into the attic, Belden fell through the ceiling. Belden alleges he was shot with a stun gun twice immediately after his fall.
Belden was arrested and taken to the Hi-Desert Medical Center for clearance. He had several abrasions from the fall. Belden was also an admitted heroin addict and was prescribed Klonopin to prevent withdrawal-induced seizures. The lawsuit alleges the jail personnel were given strict instructions to take Belden’s vital signs every day.
He was transported on the same day to the Morongo Basin jail — which is not equipped with medical staff, a medical facility or other health services.
Records indicated that Belden did not get any medication while detained in the Morongo Basin jail.
Two days later, he was taken to the courthouse for an arraignment hearing. The lawsuit states he recalls telling deputies that something was wrong and he was really sick. Belden said deputies dismissed his concerns, saying, “That’s what happens when you’re a crackhead.”
He was transported to the West Valley Detention Center and then back to the Morongo Basin holding cell for further hearings. He appeared in court on April 2 and took a plea deal that came with a two-year prison term.
“Perry took the first plea deal offered to him because he wanted to get out of local custody,” Belden’s lawyers said in the official complaint.
He was transferred back to the West Valley Detention Center on April 3. The next morning, staff there took his blood pressure. It read 145/98 (normal blood pressure is less than 120 over 80). He was transported to the Arrowhead Medical Center three hours later in critical condition.
Hospital record indicate Belden was experiencing septic shock and renal failure; his skin was mottling, his heart rate was high and he was having difficulty breathing. Doctors were able to save his life, but they had to amputate his legs and left hand. His right hand was also deformed and he had to remain in the hospital for approximately six months.
“For a simple family squabble to end up with Perry like this is just so awful,” said one of Belden’s attorneys, Sharon Brunner.
Brunner met Belden’s mother at a protest outside of the Joshua Tree Superior Courthouse demanding better condition for inmates.
“She talked to me about how her son was hurt while in custody,” Brunner said. “We have been making it our life mission to improve jail conditions in San Bernardino County.”
Brunner and a team of lawyers took on Belden’s and Olds’ case.
San Bernardino County is no stranger to these lawsuits. During the same month that Belden was charged for his crimes, Prison Law Office, a firm that monitors incarceration throughout the country, settled a class action lawsuit against San Bernardino County.
The lawsuit named two prisoners. One, Zachary Shovey, has serious psychiatric disorders, but deputies at the county jail failed to provide him with treatment and medications for a year despite symptoms including hallucinations, the complaint stated.
The second prisoner, George Topete, said he needs to use a cane, but the county denied him his cane for months at a time. At one point he was provided with a wheelchair, but he could not use it because he was not in an area with wheelchair access.
The Prison Law Office sued saying the two prisoners’ experiences were part of a pattern of abuse and neglect.
Court records indicate that the county of San Bernardino was served on Belden’s case on May 24. The county attorneys’ response is due to the court on June 14.