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Severely Beaten L.A. County Jail Prisoner Wins Only $5,000

A Los Angeles (L.A.) County, California jail prisoner who was severely beaten by three other prisoners on three occasions sued for deliberate indifference in failing to protect him. On August 3, 2005, after a five day trial and seven hours of deliberations, a federal civil jury found against jail staff but awarded the prisoner only $5,000.

Guillermo Astudillo, 28, was housed in the Mens Central Jail in L.A., where the guards heard him being beaten, but did not respond. Astudillo sued seven guards and the County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, demanding $500,000, claiming the County was negligent in its guard training. But before trial, the court dismissed the County as well as all of the charged deputies who were not present at the time of the beatings.

However, guard Joseph Manfree was present, and failed to perform hourly safety checks to determine if anyone was being assaulted. Because Manfree had not done so, thereby permitting the repeated beatings, he was found guilty of cruel and unusual punishment. Police procedures expert Roger Clark testified that anyone performing this required task would have discovered the beatings earlier. He further testified that Manfree regularly allowed drug use and drinking to go on in the jail, contributing to his deliberate indifference. [The L.A. County Jails failure to protect its wards due to security lapses, resulting in five murders and 25 deputies being disciplined, is widely acknowledged. See: PLN, Apr. 2005, p.16.]
In argument to the jury, Los Alamitos attorney William C. Saacke asked the jury that if $12.5 million was awarded for the death of Ron Goldman [0.J. Simpson case victim], what award should be made for someone nearly beaten to death? For his wrist fracture, face and arm lacerations, blunt force trauma to his head and fractured nose and six days in the hospital, the jury thought that only $5,000 was appropriate, even though they found that Manfree was deliberately indifferent to Astudillos protection rights. See: Astudillo v. County of Los Angeles, U.S.D.C., C.D. Cal., Case No. 2:03-CV-04719.

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Related legal case

Astudillo v. County of Los Angeles