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$2.1 Million Award in California Prisoner’s Choking Death

A California federal jury has awarded the estate of a prisoner who was choked to death by prison guards $2.1 million. Prisoner Johnny Young, who was mentally ill, died on December 30, 2004, while being restrained by guards at the Richard J. Donovan State Prison.

While walking to breakfast that morning, the 40-year-old Young had a psychotic episode that caused guards to forcibly restrain him. When Young continued to move around, guards placed him “in choke holds and head locks, kneeled on his neck and back, and stomped on his neck and back,” causing his death.

The matter proceeded to a three week trial. The jury found that guard Robert Craig used excessive force and acted maliciously and sadistically for the purpose of causing Young harm. It also found that Craig and guards Edwin Fontan, Jose Rodriguez, and Edward Wamil acted with deliberate indifference to Young’s safety, causing him harm. It awarded Young’s estate $100,000 on this count.

The jury further found that Craig, Fontan, Rodriguez, and Wamil were negligent in such a manner to be a substantial factor in Young’s death. In all, it found these guards were 50% responsible for his death and non-party psychiatric, medical, and guard staff was 50% responsible. For the negligence claim, the jury awarded the estate $2 million.

Representing the estate to obtain the April 29, 2009, verdict was San Diego attorney Thomas Luneau. See: Young v. Hernandez, USDC, S.D. California, Case No: 05-CU-2375 W CCAB)

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Related legal case

Young v. Hernandez