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Jury Awards $8,000 in California Prison Assault

On November 23, 1998, a federal jury in Sacramento, California, awarded state prisoner Johnny Garcia $8,000 in damages stemming from a prison assault. On January 3, 1994, Garcia (a member of the Northern Mexican prison gang, AKA Norteño) was placed in administrative segregation (ad seg) at New Folsom on charges of having stabbed a rival Southern Mexican (AKA Sureño) gang member. Upon arriving in the segregation unit Garcia told unit prison guards of his gang affiliation to ensure he was given a proper cell assignment.

Despite having the information about Garcia's gang affiliation, guard Gary Coombes placed a hand cuffed Garcia into a cell with a rival Sureño gang member. Garcia was placed into the cell handcuffed and before guards could release him his cellmate repeatedly stabbed and slashed Garcia with a razor knife as guards looked on.

Garcia filed suit claiming that Coombes and four other guards had violated his Eighth amendment right to safety by deliberately placing him in a cell assignment where they knew he was likely to be harmed.

Garcia represented himself pro so throughout the trial and other court proceedings. The jury awarded him $8,000 in compensatory damages against Coombes. The jury ruled in favor of the other four guards and also declined to award punitive damages. Coombes argument that Garcia's cell placement was an accident was obviously rejected by the jury.

In a pretrial brief deputy attorney general Jennifer Weck stated "The verdict in this case will be determined by deciding who is entitled to credibility and who is not." Ms. Weck had no comment after the verdict was rendered. Readers should note this was an unpublished jury verdict. We would like to thank Michael Espitia for bringing this case to our attention. See: Garcia v. Pozzi, USDC EDCA, Case No. CIV-S-95-0009-DADP.

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Related legal case

Garcia v. Pozzi