Maricopa Co. Sheriff’s Office settles for $12 million in attack that nearly killed inmate

The lawsuit said Brian Ortiz was hit or kicked nearly 50 times and it took two hours and 15 minutes until Ortiz was taken to the hospital.
Updated: Jun. 9, 2022 at 7:00 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has reached a nearly $12 million settlement in a lawsuit over a 2020 attack that almost killed an inmate. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved the $11.75 million settlement on May 18 for the mother of Brian Ortiz. The lawsuit was officially resolved on Tuesday. The lawsuit said Ortiz was hit or kicked nearly 50 times and it took two hours and 15 minutes until Ortiz was taken to the hospital. “I offer my heartfelt apology to the Ortiz family as we conclude the litigation regarding the violent attack against Mr. Ortiz that occurred while in our custody in 2020. It is my expectation and our commitment that everyone in our care and custody is entitled to a safe and healthy environment,” Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said in a statement.

According to court paperwork, on May 26, 2020, Xavier Fregoso punched then-18-year-old Ortiz about 16 times and doled out 32 foot-stomps during the beating at around 7:40 a.m. The lawsuit said Ortiz was unconscious, seizing and bleeding from his head. Two detention officers did a security walk about 20 minutes after the attack, and saw Ortiz was unconscious but did nothing, the lawsuit said. About 50 minutes later, another security walk was done where the two officers talked to Fergoso and another inmate and saw Ortiz lying there but didn’t take any action. At around 9:15 a.m., three medical staff members stopped at Ortiz’s cell to check his blood pressure. The lawsuit said medical officer C. Collett didn’t give medical care or call an ambulance. Collett asked the other two their opinions on what was happening. Collett then radioed “man down” to security.

The mug shot for Xavier Fregoso, who is accused of nearly beating Brian Ortiz to death.
The mug shot for Xavier Fregoso, who is accused of nearly beating Brian Ortiz to death.(Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

More staff arrived, but the Ortiz family says emergency care wasn’t provided and no one called for an ambulance. At 9:25 a.m., about one hour and 45 minutes after being beaten, he was taken out of his cell and moved to the jail’s medical clinic. At 9:55 a.m., he was put in an ambulance. Ortiz’s mother, Selene Ortiz, said she wasn’t told about the attack and the hospitalization of her son until June 1, 2020, when a hospital staff member told her. Two days later, doctors asked Selene to take her son off life support and she refused. Brian was unconscious for more than two months. His lawyer, Tony Piccuta, tells Arizona’s Family Ortiz is severely, cognitively disabled. “This isn’t like he won the lottery. He is going to require medical treatment for the rest of his life. He will, he has no future, no earning potential,” Piccuta said. Brian is learning to walk again and is in a 24-hour extended living facility.

Selene filed the lawsuit on Sept. 8, 2020. “I felt like I had lost part of my life,” she said. For Selene, it’s not about the money but about raising awareness of jail conditions. “I didn’t want to do Brian’s case based on a settlement. I want the state to realize how people are being treated in there,” she said.

Piccuta said Ortiz’s unit allowed for three inmates to be out of their cells unsupervised. He added Ortiz didn’t belong in that level of custody. “When you go into custody you lose a lot of rights but...they have a responsibility to make sure the inmates there are safe and have rights under the laws and Constitution and we believe those rights are violated,” said Piccuta.

The lawyer of an inmate nearly beaten to death released Maricopa County jail surveillance video of the attack after a lawsuit was settled

Penzone said on Thursday in a statement the officers involved didn’t violate any MCSO policy. “Although MCSO meets or exceeds national best practices, the subsequent delay in our recognition of the event and engagement to provide aide occurred due to human and operational shortcomings. This is not an excuse, yet it is a reality in the complex environment that exists within the jail setting,” he said. “It would be unfair to blame our officers as the complexities of their job, which are beyond that which most outside of law enforcement experience, do not allow for human error.”

The full statement from Penzone can be read below.

“I offer my heartfelt apology to the Ortiz family as we conclude the litigation regarding the violent attack against Mr. Ortiz that occurred while in our custody in 2020. It is my expectation and our commitment that everyone in our care and custody is entitled to a safe and healthy environment. MCSO works hard to ensure the safety of the inmates, officers and all working in the jail facilities. Unfortunately, jails are inherently dangerous given many of those incarcerated are violent criminals, like the inmate who attacked Mr. Ortiz. Although MCSO meets or exceeds national best practices, the subsequent delay in our recognition of the event and engagement to provide aide occurred due to human and operational shortcomings. This is not an excuse, yet it is a reality in the complex environment that exists within the jail setting. The officers involved did not violate any MCSO policy and it would be unfair to blame our officers as the complexities of their job, which are beyond that which most outside of law enforcement experience, do not allow for human error.

As the Sheriff, I will not overlook nor excuse our organizational limitations. We have and will continue to seek ways to more quickly identify violence within the jail walls and to mitigate the threat to anyone under our supervision. We continue to seek artificial intelligence technology, expanded staffing opportunities and operational measures to improve our every action on behalf of the community we serve, and that includes the inmate population.

The cost to our taxpayers due to this incident is considerable and I am disappointed. The cost to Mr. Ortiz’s health and future cannot be measured.”

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone