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Jury Awards $2.3 Million for Slain San Quentin Prisoner, State Settles for $2.5 Milliion

by W. Wisely

On Monday, November 30, 1999, a federal jury awarded more than $2.3 million in damages to the family of a prisoner shot to death by a San Quentin guard. The ten jurors found Mark Adams, killed March 1994 while fighting with another prisoner on the exercise yard of the prison's segregation unit, died as a direct result of a flawed statewide policy on use of lethal force in prison. That policy, jurors found, was responsible for the, at best, negligent deaths of a dozen unarmed men throughout the prison system in recent years.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs proved California was the only state which permitted prison guards to use deadly force to break up simple fist fights between unarmed prisoners. They awarded $191,000 against Tim Reynolds, the guard who fired the fatal shot, $450,500 against Arthur Calderon, then warden of San Quentin, and $1.6 million against James Gomez, the former director of the state Department of Corrections. The bulk of the award was for punitive damages against Gomez and Calderon.

"They were the ones who knew the policies and didn't do anything about it," jury foreman Robert Resner told reporters. Resner, a San Francisco attorney, said those policies included providing high-powered assault rifles to guards inside the prison while not making less than lethal means of force available. "I think we've sent the department a message with this verdict that they're not to break up fistfights with guns," said Leroy Lounibos, an attorney for Adams' estate. Although the deputy attorney general who lost the case had no comment, corrections officials were anxious to respond.

"We are shocked by the verdict and based on the facts available, we disagree with it," Margo Bach, a department spokesperson told the Times. "We are troubled by the punitive damages assessed against two outstanding correctional administrators. We are exploring every legal option available."

Just days after the Times concluded a series of investigative articles focusing on the killing of unarmed prisoners by guards in California correctional facilities, prison officials gave notice they were revising the shooting policy. Since 1994, California prison guards have killed 12 prisoners and wounded 32 others in fights and riots. The practice of shooting unarmed prisoners does not exist in any other state.

Adams escaped from San Quentin and lived a law abiding life for some seven years in Puerto Rico. When captured by the FBI, Adams predicted he would be killed if returned to San Quentin. Reynolds, a trained marksman, testified he made an effort to shoot Adams in a less than deadly area, and was upset over the death. However, on rebuttal, a former girlfriend of Reynolds revealed he bragged about the killing.

Evidence during the 12 day wrongful death trial in federal district court showed Adams argued with Paul Green, a Black Guerrilla Family dropout who was moved into the next cell. Both men were housed on San Quentin's deathrow. Green had a history of mental illness. Adams and Green took the argument to the exercise yard. Reynolds fired three shots from 25 feet away. One of the bullets hit Adams squarely in the back of the head, killing him instantly.

Anna Crosby, Adams' mother, said money could not compensate for the loss of her son. "I've been sitting here bawling ever since the lawyer called me," she told the San Francisco Chronicle December 1, 1998. "Nothing will bring my son back. I'll give them all the money in the world to get my son back. I wanted to prove they were wrong about what they did to my son. It was not right. I loved my son with all my heart."

On December 31, 1998, the CDC announced it had settled the suit for $2.5 million. The Department said it had agreed to the settlement "to save the taxpayers the cost of an appeal." Had the state appealed interest would have been accruing on the jury verdict and the attorney fee bill for Adams' estate would have increased as well.

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