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California Prison Excessive Force Death Suit Settled For $850,000

A Corcoran State Prison prisoner whose psychotropic medications had not been renewed for 20 days died from excessive force used to subdue him when he suffered withdrawal symptoms. On November 4, 2005, California settled his parents civil rights wrongful death suit brought in the federal district court for $850,000. In addition, the state agreed to hire the victims father, a retired Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief, to work as a reforms consultant in the state prison system.

John Douglas White, 33, died on August 17, 2001, four months before his scheduled release. He had been under medical care at Corcoran, where doctors had prescribed Lithium, Risperdal, Depakote and Prozac to treat his psychological disorders.

White had been subdued by six to eight guards, weighing about 250 lbs. apiece, when White -- 20 days without his prescribed medication -- had a psychotic episode of classic withdrawal symptoms, including dizziness and sweating. The guards, planning on taking White to the prison Emergency Room, put him in leg restraints, fitted a non-porous spit mask over his face, pinned him to the floor on his stomach, and handcuffed him. After a few minutes, he stopped breathing and turned purple. He was resuscitated at the prison hospital, but died the next day at a community hospital. His death was determined to be due to positional asphyxia plus obstruction of air by the solid mask over his face.

Prison defendants relied upon a memo authorizing use of leg restraints and the mask in such circumstances. However, this defense was trashed when it was shown that the memo was written after the death in a feckless cover-up attempt. They also claimed that White was a drug addict, alienated from his family, and had no earning capacity. However, they did not dispute their failure to renew Whites prescriptions.

Whites loving parents, who anticipated Whites economic support upon his release, proved economic future earning losses of $30,000/yr. Whites family was represented by Stone Busailah, LLP in Pasadena. See: White v. Brown, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. CIV F 02-5939 OWW/TAG.

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Related legal case

White v. Brown