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$170,000 Jury Verdict in Sacramento Jail Beating

$170,000 Jury Verdict in Sacramento Jail Beating

In April 2008, a federal jury in Sacramento, California returned verdicts against five Sacramento County Jail deputies for beating a prisoner and denying him food and water for eight hours. Although the facts were contested, the jury’s verdicts of $20,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages indicated a rejection of the deputies’ testimony. Following the verdicts, and upon motion of the defendants, the district court ordered a retrial.

Don Antoine, 41, was booked into the county jail for drunk driving in June 2004 and placed in a padded cell. When he knocked on the door to call for medical attention, a guard ordered him not to knock. When Antoine knocked again, five guards went into the cell, handcuffed him, and shackled his legs to the floor grate (the cell’s toilet). They unshackled him an hour later, but gave him no food or water for eight hours. When released from the cell he was given pain medication.

Antoine filed suit for excessive force. He claimed that guards Chris Baker, Joseph Reeve, Brian Wade and Christopher Britton had assaulted him while Sergeant Daren Griem watched. He also complained that the jail policy requiring a nurse to be called when a prisoner was shackled had been violated.

Antoine’s injuries, according to his expert witness, Jeffrey Schwartz, Ph.D., included a broken larynx (from being choked), bruised ribs, wrist injuries from overtight restraints, and emotional distress. When Antoine was released from jail a few weeks later he underwent surgery to repair his larynx with a titanium plate and screws. He now has a permanent raspy voice.

The defendant guards argued that Antoine’s injuries did not occur at the jail but were sustained in the car accident that precipitated his arrest, where he fought with firefighters and police. They also claimed that Antoine never asked for food, water or medical treatment while in the padded cell.

After a two-week trial, the jurors returned a unanimous verdict in one day. The jury awarded compensatory damages of $20,000, plus punitive damages of $25,000 against each of the four deputies and $50,000 against Sergeant Griem, for a total of $170,000.

On June 25, 2008, the district court granted the defendants’ motion for a new trial on both liability and damages, based largely on problems with the jury instructions that were used. The re-trial has not yet been scheduled.

Antoine was represented by San Francisco attorneys Lizabeth de Vries, Darren Kessler and John Scott, all of the Scott Law Firm, and attorney Amitai Schwartz. See: Antoine v. County of Sacramento, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:06-cv-01349-WBS-GGH.

Additional source: VerdictSearch California

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Related legal case

Antoine v. County of Sacramento