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More Settlements and Verdicts in New Hampshire False Disciplinary Charge Case

A federal jury in New Hampshire has awarded a total of $150,000 to two former prisoners in the continuing saga of false disciplinary charges by a guard at the Hillsborough County Jail.

These cases stem from the actions of guard Cesar Rivas, who claimed nine prisoners surrounded and threatened him on July 14, 2002. Those nine were then ?lugged to the hole.? Seven of the prisoners, represented by attorney Michael J. Sheehan, later filed civil rights actions.

Last year PLN reported a jury award of $20,000 in one of those cases, involving former prisoner Jason Surprenant. [See: PLN, June 2006, pg. 26]. Also, former prisoner Antonio King prevailed at trial on Jan. 30, 2006 but was awarded only $1 in nominal damages and $500 in punitive damages. The federal district judge ordered a new trial on damages, saying King had suffered real harm and was entitled to compensation. On June 7, 2007, a different jury awarded King $5,000. See: King v. Rivas, USDC, Dist. NH, Case No. 1:04-cv-00356-SM. Three other former prisoners settled for undisclosed amounts in the summer of 2006.

On September 15, 2006, a jury awarded the final two prisoners damages. That verdict, however, determined that Rivas had not violated the prisoners? due process rights.

The jury found violations meriting damages because of the insufficient disciplinary proceedings and conditions of confinement in segregation. Those verdicts came in the lawsuits filed by plaintiffs Richard West and Palacio Paladin.

After being taken to the hole, the plaintiffs were not advised of the reason for their segregation for 5 to 10 days afterwards. The notification of charges came by a guard coming to each plaintiff?s cell and reading a document to them. They were not given a copy of the charges. Two to four weeks later, guard Terry Pendleton presided over the disciplinary hearings. She did not allow the plaintiffs to call witnesses, present evidence, cross examine witnesses or have any information about the jail?s investigation. After being found guilty the plaintiffs were sentenced to 30 days segregation.

The jury found Pendleton had violated Paladin and West?s Fourteenth Amendment rights. They awarded each plaintiff one dollar in nominal damages and $50,000 in punitive damages. The jury also found that the jail?s superintendent, James O?Mara, had violated due process by the unconstitutional conditions of the jail?s restricted housing unit (RHU).

While held in the RHU, the plaintiffs literally had nothing: They were not allowed televisions, radios, reading material of any kind, writing materials, access to their legal papers, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, the ability to receive or send mail, use of a telephone, or visits. The water in their cells was turned off for long periods of time, preventing them from drinking and forcing them to live in the cell with their own urine and excrement.

For those conditions the jury awarded Paladin $50,000 in compensatory damages, but awarded only $1 to West. The jury said the conditions shocked their conscience and were not legitimately related to the purpose of the jail.

While attorney Sheehan successfully obtained settlements or verdicts for seven prisoners involved in this incident, the other two ?melted back into the outside award.? Certainly, they missed out on compensation for the abuse they endured. See: Paladin v. Rivas, USDC, Dist. N.H., Case No: 05-CV-00079-SM.

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Related legal cases

Paladin v. Rivas

King v. Rivas