On April 20, 2009, Sacramento County agreed to settle an excessive force suit brought by a former prisoner at the Sacramento Main Jail (SMJ) for $260,000.
On December 1, 2005, Donald Black, a probationary sergeant at SMJ, ordered the use of flash bang grenades during a cell extraction of five prisoners who flooded their rooms as part of a protest of inhumane conditions at the jail.
Flash bang grenades are louder than a jet at takeoff and brighter than 8 million candles, and are typically used as distractions in riot or hostage situations.
The grenades were thrown through a food port in the door of each cell and exploded within feet of the prisoners’ faces. None of the prisoners were armed, and none were given the opportunity to voluntarily exit their cells before the grenades were used. The grenades were used in order to disorient the prisoners and make their removals easier.
Courtney Countee was one of the prisoners the grenades were used on. According to Countee’s attorney, Sanford Jay Rosen, Countee was blinded and in pain after the grenade was thrown into his cell. Guards then rushed Countee, beat and cuffed him, dragged him down the stairs, and strapped him into a restraining chair, commonly called the “devil’s chair.” Countee remained there hooded, for more than two-and-a-half hours, without medical attention for his temporary blindness, deafness, burns, and other injuries. The guards’ actions were captured on video surveillance.
Countee sued Sacramento County alleging violations of his civil rights. The $260,000 settlement the county agreed to in the case was “simply a business decision,” said John McGinnis, Sheriff of Sacramento County. “It would have cost more to try the case, and if the guy was awarded so much as a dollar, his attorneys would have been entitled to their attorneys’ fees. I think the county made the best possible deal.”
McGinnis called the incident that led to the suit “a lesson learned,” nothing the policy regarding the use of flash-bang grenades had been changed. Under the new policy, flash bangs cannot be used “absent clear evidence that the inmate has armed himself with some type of weapon” or when someone is in imminent danger.
The District Attorney’s (DA) office declined to prosecute the guards involved in the incident, citing lack of evidence. However, the DA’s office said the incident “raises significant questions regarding jail operations and the treatment of inmates.” Black, the sergeant who ordered the use of the grenades has since been demoted.
Countee was represented by Sanford Rosen of Rosen, Bien and Galvan, and Geri Green of Geri Green LC, San Francisco firms. See: Countee v. County of Sacramento, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:07-cv-02560-LKK-JFM. The settlement and complaint are available on PLN’s website.
Additional source: Sacramento Bee
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Related legal case
Countee v. County of Sacramento