Nandi Cain’s bad day: Civil rights attorneys claim black Sacramentan was beaten in the streets, then abused at the county jail

Federal lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against city and county of Sacramento over treatment of Nandi Cain

Nandi Cain, 24, of Sacramento, center, is flanked by attorneys John L. Burris, left, and Adante Pointer, right, during an April 24 press conference to discuss his federal lawsuit against the city and county of Sacramento.

Nandi Cain, 24, of Sacramento, center, is flanked by attorneys John L. Burris, left, and Adante Pointer, right, during an April 24 press conference to discuss his federal lawsuit against the city and county of Sacramento.

Photo by Raheem F. Hosseini

His nose broken and one eye swollen shut, Nandi Cain lay naked and sobbing on the concrete floor of a Sacramento jail cell as men with badges made fun of the way he smelled and ridiculed him for “crying like a bitch.”

At least, that’s the way Cain’s attorneys described what befell their 24-year-old client after he rebuffed a Sacramento police officer’s attempts to stop him on his way home from work earlier this month in Del Paso Heights.

The accusations of “sadistic” treatment within the Sacramento County Main Jail represent the latest development in a firestorm controversy that started the evening of April 10 with a young black man, a white police officer and a neighbor who recorded their violent encounter on her cellphone.

On Sunday, Oakland civil rights attorney John L. Burris filed a federal civil rights complaint against the city and county of Sacramento and named Anthony Figueroa as the police officer who took Cain to the ground and punched him more than a dozen times when Cain refused to be detained for alleged jaywalking.

While videos of Figueroa pummeling Cain’s head and face as his legs flopped on the ground have gone viral, Cain’s attorneys say their client’s pain and suffering didn’t end there. Once at the jail, the complaint asserts, Cain wasn’t medically treated for his injuries prior to his booking. The complaint also says that Figueroa insisted Cain be placed in a segregated cell for suicidal inmates, despite Cain’s saying he wasn’t suicidal.

And when Cain was brought to that cell, the complaint alleges, Figueroa and unidentified sheriff’s deputies “used their knees to pin his body against the floor, while forcefully stripping his clothes off.” The complaint asserts in dramatic fashion that Cain “was frightened that his sadistic attackers were preparing to sexually assault him. He clenched his buttocks muscles with all his might, in a feeble attempt to prevent an anticipated sexual assault.”

Cain was ultimately released after police determined there was insufficient evidence to charge him with a crime. The department is also conducting criminal and administrative investigations into Figueroa, a two-year veteran who remains suspended with pay since the incident.

The in-car camera from Figueroa’s patrol vehicle recorded the officer giving his version of events to someone outside the car as Cain sat in the backseat, handcuffed and with his legs in restraints. “I just wanted to talk to him,” Figueroa tells someone. The officer claims that he put hands on Cain only after Cain moved toward him, which the video doesn’t show. The officer also says that Cain “sort of like pushed me” when the two were on the ground. Asked if he deployed his Taser, Figeroa answers, “No, no, just a couple of punches.”

Figueroa reenters his squad car. Cain, who had been crying with his face turned to the backseat, tries to compose himself. “I’m hella mad right now,” Cain says. “First off, first off, sir, what’s was your probable cause for arresting me? What was your probable cause for pulling me over, huh?!”

The video ends without a response.

In an email, sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Tony Turnbull said the department was aware of the accusations against its jail staff. “This case will be handled just as any other allegations we receive and it will be investigated accordingly,” he wrote. “I would like to reiterate that these are only allegations, and before people jump to conclusions, let the investigation speak for itself.”

Turnbull didn’t respond to questions about whether Cain’s time in the jail was filmed. That point remains unclear.

While the downtown jail runs on a principle of robust surveillance, it’s an old facility with outdated technology and potential blind spots. Additionally, areas where inmates disrobe are statutorily prohibited from video monitoring, explained Inspector General Rick Braziel, who reviews complaints against the sheriff’s department. “That way, nobody has video of naked people.”

Braziel told SN&R he will be conducting an independent review of the department’s internal investigation, upon request from Sheriff Scott Jones.

Standing not far from where it all happened on an overcast Monday morning, Cain stared at a bank of modest homes as his attorneys described to reporters, in vivid detail, the worst day of his life.

Earlier, Cain had been in an argument with his girlfriend and, according to statements he made in videos the police released, wasn’t sure where he was staying that night. Walking home from his job at an electronic parts business filling online sales orders, Cain looked both ways before crossing a street into a residential neighborhood. Figueroa then pulled up behind him and got out.

“It’s important that we underscore, emphasize today that not only was there the initial assault as it relates to what happens on the street, but it continues once Mr. Cain makes it to the jail,” said attorney Adante Pointer, with the Law Offices of John L. Burris. “Mr. Cain, essentially, was stripped naked and beaten while he was in a defensive position on the floor. The deputies who engaged in this conduct made fun of his condition and essentially made fun of him for being defenseless and helpless.”

Cain himself was soft-spoken during the press conference, telling reporters he’s been having nightmares and experiencing depression since the incident. He also said he has trouble remembering the actual confrontation, which one of his attorneys said was because of his concussion. Cain said he didn’t see a doctor until hours after he was released from the jail, around 2 a.m. the next day, and called his girlfriend.

“I thought I was going to stay in there,” Cain said. “But had my neighbor not released the video, I’d probably still be in there.”