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Brain Damage, Blindness from California Prison Shooting Nets $2 Million Settlement

A California prisoner who was shot during a prison disturbance was paid $2 million to settle his suit.

On August 28, 1993, 37-year-old Kenneth Newton was confined at California’s Chuckwalla Valley State Prison, when a disturbance erupted on the yard and in an adjacent gymnasium. Beginning as a conflict between African-American and Hispanic prisoners, the melee quickly involved more than 300 prisoners.

Combatants “created” ‘weapons of opportunity’ including weights, brooms, sticks, mop handles, and other devices.” Only four guards were in the yard when the fight began. Once backup arrived, guards attempted to contain 75-100 African American prisoners in the gym and 200 Hispanics in the yard.

Guards and prisoners “were injured, and a call went out to post weapons.” One guard “fired a Mini-14 rifle into the gymnasium to control the situation.” He fired four shots, intending to strike a prisoner “who allegedly was carrying a weapon, but shrapnel from one of the shots ricocheted from the gymnasium floor and struck” Newton “in the eye and face.” Newton lost his left eye and sustained enough damage to his right eye that it resulted in bilateral blindness. He also sustained bilateral front lobe damage with resulting hydrocephalus and brain damage.

Newton sued in state court. It was disputed whether: Newton was a participant in the riot; he was armed; he was moving or prone on the gym floor; prisoners were complying with orders when the shots were fired; and guards fired a warning shot. Relevant evidence was “destroyed and reports of the incident had been falsified by” guards. Defendants acknowledged that Newton “suffered some brain injury but argued that he either could function independently or that he could continue to be cared for at home without great expense.” Plaintiff claimed future medical expenses of $1 million, and future earnings loss of $25,000 per year.

Newton agreed to dismiss claims against all Defendants except the warden Daniel Roberts, and the State paid $2 million to settle the case. Newton received $1.45 million up front, and a lifetime annuity of $3,600 per month, guaranteed for 20 years. Newton was represented by Sanford Gage, of Beverly Hills, California. The case settled on December 18, 2006. See: Newton v. Roberts, Sup. Ct. of Riverside County , Case No. R253408 .

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Related legal case

Newton v. Roberts