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Kern County Settles False Arrest Lawsuit for $5.5 Million

In September 2009, Kern County (California) officials entered into a multimillion dollar settlement agreement with John Stoll, disposing of a federal lawsuit filed by Stoll in 2005, seeking compensation for damages allegedly sustained as a result of a violation of his civil rights, including 20 years of incarceration for crimes that likely never occurred.

Following a messy divorce, Stoll found himself accused in 1984 of being the ringleader of one of eight “child sex rings” then being investigated by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. The “ring” cases shared common themes: children testified to child-adult sex orgies where children were drugged and photos of the naked participants were taken. The only evidence of any “ring” activities was the testimony of young children — most of whom, as adults, recanted.

Stoll was arrested in June 1984, prosecuted, convicted and ultimately sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was released in May 2004, one month after Kern County Superior Court Judge John Kelly granted his petition for writ of habeas corpus, finding that improper child-interview techniques created a substantial risk that Stoll had been convicted as a result of unreliable child testimony. Stoll’s subsequent § 1983 lawsuit included allegations that he had been illegally arrested and falsely imprisoned, that the evidence against him had been manufactured, and that the County had failed to disclose material exculpatory evidence.

All told, 23 people who were convicted in the Kern County “ring” cases ultimately had their child sex abuse convictions overturned. [See: PLN, June 2009, p. 36].

In settling the lawsuit, Kern County agreed to pay Stoll a lump sum of $3.5 million, plus monthly payments of $12,300 for life, guaranteed for 15 years (180 months). See: Stoll v. County of Kern, U.S.D.C. (E.D. CA), Case No. 1:05-cv-001059 OWW SMS.

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Related legal case

Stoll v. County of Kern,

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