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$2.1 Million Award in Excessive Force Death of California Prisoner

In April, 2009, a federal jury awarded $2.1 million in a lawsuit filed against guards at California’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility for their negligence and excessive use of force that caused a prisoner’s death.

The prisoner, John Fitzgerald Young, suffered from chronic mental illness that required psychiatric medication. On December 30, 2004, guards said Young began to act in an unusual manner on the recreation yard. Their response was to assault him while he laid on his stomach; they also placed him “in choke holds and head locks, kneeled on his neck and back, and stomped on his neck and back, all of which resulted in Mr. Young’s death,” according to the lawsuit filed by his mother, Gretchan Young.

The jury agreed in an April 29, 2009 verdict, finding that guard Robert Craig had used excessive force in a malicious and sadistic manner for the purpose of causing Young harm. The jurors also found that Craig and guards Edwin Fontan, Jose Rodriguez and Edward Wamil acted with deliberate indifference to Young’s safety, and that their conduct had caused him harm. Young’s estate was awarded $100,000 on the suit’s Eighth Amendment claim.

A $2 million award was returned for the negligence claim raised in the complaint. The jury held that Craig, Fontan, Rodriguez and Wamil were negligent for breaching their duty of care owed to Young. It further determined that the actions of Craig and Rodriguez were a substantial factor in Young’s death.

Additionally, the jury found the prison’s psychiatric and medical employees negligent, and held their conduct was likewise a substantial factor in Young’s death. Young’s mother was represented by San Diego attorneys Thomas D. Luneau and Robert Hamparyan. See: Young v. State of California, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:05-cv-02375-JLS-CAB.

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Related legal case

Young v. State of California

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.