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CDC Settles Corcoran Shooting Suit for $2.2 Million

In May, 1999, the California Department of Corrections (CDC), announced it would pay $2.2 million to settle a shooting lawsuit by former prisoner Vincent Tulumis. Earlier this year the CDC settled the Corcoran shooting death lawsuit by the estate of Preston Tate for $825,000 [PLN, May, 1999] and the San Quentin shooting death suit filed by the estate of Mark Adams for $2.5 million [PLN, May, 1999]. The Adams settlement came after a jury had awarded the estate $2.2 million in damages and found the prison warden and CDC director liable for punitive damages in the shooting.

Vincent Tulumis, 33, was in the Corcoran Security Housing Unit (SHU) in 1993 while serving a three year sentence for drug possession. The 6 foot, 4 inch tall, 280 pound Tulumis was used as an enforcer by prison guards at Corcoran. On May 14, 1993, Tulumis was asked by his cellmate, at the behest of prison guards, to fight and beat up a prisoner named Alberto Beltran, also in the SHU. Guards believed Beltran "had to be taught a lesson" for talking rudely to female guards and staff. Tulumis testified that he had previously beaten other prisoners   to curry favor with guards. That day Tulumis went to the SHU exercise yard where a gun post guard asked him if the fight was going to happen as scheduled.

Beltran and Tulumis fought. The gun post guard later claimed he thought that Beltran, a foot shorter than Tulumis, was in imminent danger. The guard shot Tulumis in the back of the neck with his 9mm assault carbine which shattered Tulumis's spine and left him a quadriplegic. Beltran was not injured.

Tulumis filed suit, claiming that his injury resulting from the guard orchestrated fight violated his Eighth amendment rights. PLN has reported extensively on similar incidents at Corcoran. Between 1989 and 1995, 50 Corcoran prisoners were shot, seven fatally and 43, including Tulumis, were wounded. Statewide, between 1989 and 1998, 39 CDC prisoners were shot and killed by guards and more than 200 were shot and -wounded. Most of the shootings occurred when prisoners were engaged in fist fights, many orchestrated by the guards.

With the FBI investigating, at least 13 guards under state and federal indictments, legislative hearings and a searing expose in the Los Angeles Times, and the jury verdict in the Adams case, the CDC is settling its shooting lawsuits as quickly and quietly as possible. Tulumis's $2.2 million settlement is one of the largest prison settlements in California history. CDC director Cal Terhune said "It was clearly in the interests of the state to see if a settlement could be made short of continued litigation."

Tulumis, since released from prison, told the Los Angeles Times: "My life today is worse than incarceration. You're looking at a man can't even wipe a tear from his eye, who can't blow his nose. I'm constantly going to the bathroom on myself, constantly needing to be changed like a baby. Corcoran state prison took away all my pride, all my dignity, and all they got was a slap on the wrist." It is ironic that CDC guards repaid Tulumis's eagerness to do their dirty work with a bullet to the neck.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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Related legal case

Tulumis v. _____