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$450,000 Settlement in California Prison Murder Suit

The California Department of Corrections (CDC) agreed on October 15, 2003 to pay $450,000 to settle the civil rights complaint brought by the surviving family of a prisoner murdered by his cellmate.

Jeffrey Ford, an effeminate homosexual serving prison time for petty theft at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, was beaten and strangled to death by his cellmate James Diesso. Diesso and Ford were both in the psychiatric administration segregation unit; Diesso was a known homosexual predator. Although Diesso had told guard Michael Hancock the evening before that he was "losing it" and was about to do something bad and needed to see a psychiatrist, Hancock did nothing. A few hours later in the early a.m., Diesso brutally assaulted and killed Ford. Diesso was ultimately convicted of first degree murder.

Ford's family sued Hancock and CDC under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Hancock had been deliberately indifferent to the known risk of harm to Ford, based upon Diesso's prior history of violence on guards and prisoners and his earlier advisement to Hancock. The defendants' theory, that they were qualifiedly immune because a reasonable guard would not have known the danger posed by the facts, had been rejected by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. (See: Estate of Ford v. Ramirez-Palmer, 301 F.3d 1043 (9th Cir. 2002). [PLN, Jan. '04, p.32].)

The settlement was reached one week prior to the scheduled jury trial. The Fords were represented by Walnut Creek attorney Stan Casper and San Francisco attorney John Houston Scott. See: Estate of Ford v. California, U.S.D.C., N.D. Cal., Case No. CV-S-99-01234 GEB JFM.

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Related legal case

Estate of Ford v. California

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.