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Los Angeles Settles County Jail Murder Suit For $1 Million

by John E. Dannenberg

On August 14, 2007, Los Angeles County settled a lawsuit brought by the family of a mentally ill prisoner who was stomped to death in a holding cell by two prisoners, while guards failed to respond. The $1 million settlement is another increment in the County Jail?s $6.5 million in such payments paid in just the first six months of 2007.

Thirty-five year-old county jail prisoner Chadwick Cochran was allegedly slain by two prisoners, Christian Perez and Heriberto Rodriguez on November 15, 2005. Cochran still wore a red I.D. card identifying him as a mental health patient. However, the two assailants believed it meant he was a snitch. Accordingly, when packed together with 40 men (many of whom were ?high risk?) in a holding cell to eat their dinners, the two gang members first attacked Cochran with their fists and dinner trays, then jumped repeatedly on his head while the others watched. The window on the door of the cell had been painted over, eliminating visual monitoring.
Disapproving prisoners tried to yell through the door to get the guards? attention, but for twenty minutes, none responded. The two assailants are awaiting trial and may face the death penalty.

The lawsuit focused on a previous memorandum of understanding signed by the County to provide proper care, treatment and protection of mentally ill prisoners, stemming from deficiencies noted by the Department of Justice in its investigation in 1996. The suit further noted that when Cochran was moved from the mental health care section, he should have been given a new identification card without the telltale red color. Additionally, the complaint alleged that staff failed to do their jobs, leaving the 40 prisoners with no oversight of any kind for over 20 minutes. Violations of the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments were alleged in the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit filed in U.S. District Court.

Nonetheless, County Jail officials still didn?t ?get it.? On May 22, 2007, Kurt Kartcher, a known bi-polar prisoner who had strangled a former cellmate at Lancaster State Prison and was removed to county jail for that trial, was taken from the mental health section of the jail (after being cleared by mental health staff) to be closer to the courthouse, and placed with a cellmate in the Main Jail. After the earlier murder, Kartcher had been single-celled in state prison for obvious reasons. But chagrined state prison officials admitted that they did not forward information on the previous strangulation to county officials when they transferred Kartcher, nor did they mention his original commitment offense, the strangulation murder of a lawyer who had paid him for sex.
Once again double-celled in the jail, Kartcher promptly strangled his third victim, cellmate Jose Cruz, to death. Today, Kartcher is belatedly single-celled in the County Jail, awaiting trial on both murders, where he could also face the death penalty, because he was already sentenced to life-without-parole for the murder of his lawyer-lover.

Cruz was the fifteenth Los Angeles County Jail prisoner to be murdered there since 2000. The estate was represented by attorneys Samuel Paz and Sonia Mercado. See: Moye v. County of Los Angeles, U.S.D.C. C.D. Cal., Case No. CV05-8807 SSX.

Other source: Los Angeles Times.

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Related legal case

Moye v. County of Los Angeles