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$6 Million Settlement in Beating Death of California Detainee

California’s Kern County agreed to pay $6 million to settle a lawsuit in the beating death of a pre-trial detainee at the county’s jail. The August 15, 2005, incident involved “as many as 14 detention officers [who] … beat, hit, kicked, kneed, punched, choked, taunted, mocked, and tormented an inmate who was handcuffed and shackled,” said attorney Daniel Rodriguez. “During this entire ordeal, the inmate was pleading, ‘Help me, help me, they’re killing me.’”

Without cause, the guards began their abuse of James Moore, 30, after he was arrested for threatening Michelle Tripp, the mother of his 5-year-old son Bryce. Moore, a big man, struggled off and on for hours with guards at the Kern County Detention Center.

In addition to the blows to his body and torso area, Moore was pepper sprayed and put in a carotid hold until he was rendered unconscious. As Moore lay severely inured in a cell, guard Ralph Contreras used the camera on his cell phone to take pictures of Moore. He then emailed those pictures with the message, “This dude got fucked up.”

Moore was so seriously injured that on August 21 he was taken off life support and died. On December 1, 2005, five guards were arrested in connection with Moore’s death.
Contreras and guards Roxanne Fowler and Daniel Thomas Lindini face second degree murder charges. Two other guards, Angel Bravo and Lisa Romero, were only charged with assault and took plea deals that did not result in jail time.

The lawsuits filed in Moore’s death were on behalf of his sons, Bryce and James Jr., 16. On April 14, 2009, attorneys representing them settled the matter for $6,050,000 to avoid years of further litigation, even though they felt the case was worth more.

“A jury probably would have awarded something in the neighborhood of $20 to $25 million, it was that kind of case, it was outrageous,” said Rodriguez, who represented Bryce. “But that meant another additional seven, eight, nine years.”

“These boys would be well past the age where this would be of any benefit to them,” said James Jr.’s attorney, David Cohn. The attorneys will receive $1 million for fees and the court is to determine the appropriate annuity of the remainder for the boys’ benefit.

The attorneys felt the settlement sent an important warning. “The message is that law enforcement cannot avoid responsibility, avoid accountability, by virtue of the fact that they wear a uniform or badge,” said Rodriguez. “No one, no one is above the law.” However, as this issue of PLN goes to press, none of the guards who beat Moore to death have been convicted and they remain free on bail.

WhileSee: Moore v. County of Kern, USDC, E.D. California, Case No: 1:05-CV-0415.

Additional Source: the Bakersfield Californian

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Related legal case

Moore v. County of Kern