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Corcoran Shooting Death Suit Settled for $825,000

On November 10, 1998, the California Department of Corrections (CDC) settled a lawsuit involving the 1994 shooting death of prisoner Preston Tate for $825,000. Tate, a black gang member, was in the Corcoran prisons Security Housing Unit (SHU) when guards placed him in an exercise yard with rival Latino gang members. In the ensuing fist fight, prison guard John Vaughn shot and killed Tate.

Fresno lawyer Catherine Campbell filed suit on behalf of Tate's family. Through her tenacious efforts in the course of litigating the case, the CDC's policy and practice of placing rival gang members in the same SHU exercise yards to provide "gladiator fights" for the entertainment of prison staff was exposed. Eventually eight guards were indicted by a federal grand jury in Tate's murder. [ PLN , July, 1998, "Eight California Prison Guards Indicted."] All told, the CDC's shooting policy led to seven prisoners being shot and killed and 43 shot and wounded at Corcoran alone between 1989 and 1994. PLN has extensively covered the background of the Corcoran shootings and we refer readers to back issues. [ PLN , Oct. 1998, "Corcoran Prison Sex, Lies and Videotape."]

In settling the suit for $825,000, the CDC defendants did not admit any wrongdoing. The settlement does not affect the criminal proceedings against the eight guards involved in Tate's murder. The settlement prevents the Tate family and their lawyers from "gloating." In a brief statement to the Los Angeles Times, Campbell said "All I can say is that the family believes that justice has been done."

In a letter to PLN Campbell stated that the $825,000 settlement Included attorney fees and damages. The settlement would be split, approximately, with $300,000 going to the Tate family, $200,000 for the costs and expenses in litigating the case and $300,000 to be split among attorneys Campbell, Robert Navarro and Milton Grimes for their work on the case. The settlement is unpublished. See: Estate of Preston Tate v. Gomez, USDC, EDCA, Case number CV-F-95-5239-DLB.

Four of the defendants in the civil suit, Lt. Douglas Martin, Sgt. John Vaugh, and guards Jerry Arvizu and Christopher Bethea, are also criminal defendants In the case filed by the federal government. PLN will report further developments in these cases as they occur.

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Related legal case

Estate of Preston Tate v. Gomez