A federal court judge ruled that county jail officials violated inmates' right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment by having them sleep on the floor due to overcrowding.
U.S District Judge Dean D. Pregerson said in a ruling on a class action lawsuit released Friday that jail officials violated prisoners' constitutional rights and were guilty of "deliberate indifference" for failing to provide them with bunks.
Violations of the prisoners' rights could now be presented as a proven fact to a jury should the case go to trial, which may clear the way for the inmates to be compensated, said attorney Stephen Yagman, who represented the prisoners involved in the lawsuit.
"This is quite an extraordinary ruling," Yagman said.
"I've never seen anything like it."
Attorney Paul B. Beach, who represented the county in the suit, did not immediately respond to a telephone message left seeking comment early Monday.
He declined comment to the Los Angeles Times Sunday, saying that he was not authorized by his client to speak to reporters.
Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said the practice of having inmates sleep on the floor "is over, and has been for a while now."
In his ruling, Pregerson suggested that floor sleeping had continued until at least last year.
He said county records show that there were nearly 700 "additional instances of floor sleeping in February 2006."
The lawsuit covers inmates who were forced to sleep on the floor from December 2000 to May 2005.
Sheriff's Department records showed that during one four-month period in 2005, there were more than 24,000 instances of inmates sleeping on floors.
Yagman said Sunday that he had two other class-action cases involving inmates who were forced to sleep on floors from May 2005
to as recently as this year.