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$400,000 Wrongful Death Settlement After San Diego Jailers Hog-Tied Prisoner

by John E. Dannenberg

The County of San Diego, California agreed in September 2006 to pay $400,000 to settle an excessive-force wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the family of a prisoner who died on February 2, 2001 in the Otay Mesa Jail after being hog-tied by sheriff?s deputies.

Marshawn Washington was awaiting transfer to state prison to serve a three-year term for sales of cocaine. He was awakened at 2:30 a.m. for a cell search, wherein deputies found (previously approved) nude photos of Washington?s wife, Bertha. When they were confiscated, he became upset and demanded to speak with a jail supervisor. He was then taken to a medical cell, where deputies put a spit mask on his head, put a choke hold on him, and forced him to the floor where they bound his hands and legs all together behind his back.

After complaining that he had asthma and that he couldn?t breathe, he stopped moving. Another prisoner heard choking and gagging sounds for about 45 seconds. A second prisoner heard grunting which then sounded like it turned to crying. Then no one heard anything. Nurses dragged Washington to a padded cell, where he allegedly ?was left to die.?
Deputies stood over him and just watched as he pleaded, grunted, choked and cried. One deputy was reportedly overheard then saying, ?Oh, you don?t like it now, hah, things have changed.? Other deputies allegedly said, ?Yeah, we know it?s too tight; we know it?s too small.? The complaint alleged that deputies K. Carson, Luis Carrillo, Juan Coria, Gary Rogers, John Russell, Allen Griffin, James Kelley and Sergeant Astuto ?sadistically watched Washington choking on the floor until he lost consciousness and stopped moving.? Before he died, deputies cut off his clothing, while leaving him in the padded cell wearing just the four-point restraints. When deputies noticed he was no longer moving, they removed the spit mask and found blood coming from Washington?s nose and mouth. He was then formally pronounced dead.

The medical examiner said the 6 foot, 273 lb. Washington died of a heart attack, but lawyers disagreed over what brought it on. Bertha?s lawyer argued that Washington could not breathe due to the way he was restrained.

The matter was brought in U.S. District Court (S.D. Cal.) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and pendant state law claims alleging wrongful death, violation of the right of association, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence per se and medical negligence. On the second day into the trial, the lawyers settled. The County?s lawyer, James Chapin, stated they settled because ?jury verdicts are unpredictable.? Bertha stated she was satisfied with the settlement, but feared ?that jail officials still haven?t learned a lesson from her husband?s death.? She was represented by San Diego attorneys Gene Iredale and Douglas Gilliland. See: Washington v. County of San Diego, USDC, SD CA, Case No. 3:02-cv-00143-LAB-JMA.

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Related legal case

Washington v. County of San Diego