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California Prison Settles Prisoner’s Excessive Force Suit for $15,000

On January 28, 2010, California prisoner Garrison S. Johnson, proceeding pro se, signed a settlement agreement to resolve a federal lawsuit he had filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming violations of his civil rights by officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Johnson had brought suit in October 2005, alleging that five months earlier, while housed at California State Prison-Corcoran, he was repeatedly beaten and then pepper sprayed and “torched” with hot water by CDCR guards who escorted him first from the dining hall to a program office and afterwards to administrative segregation. Although the reason for the beatings was unclear, Johnson alleged a pattern and practice of guards using excessive force at Corcoran, specifically targeting African-American prisoners as they left the dining hall following meals.

Johnson claimed that as a result of the assaults he sustained head and eye injuries; he also said he was denied medical treatment. When he filed a staff complaint against the officers who had allegedly beaten him, Johnson received a rule violation for filing a false complaint. He was found guilty and assessed a loss of 20 days of behavior credits. [PLN readers should note that in Chaker v. Crogan, 428 F.3d 1215 (9th Cir. 2005), the Ninth Circuit invalidated, on First Amendment grounds, the CDCR regulation which formerly allowed officials to punish prisoners for allegedly false staff complaints].

The district court screened out Johnson’s equal protection and First Amendment retaliation claims, the latter because it was barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The court allowed his complaint to proceed on Eighth Amendment claims of excessive force and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.

The CDCR agreed to settle the case. Under the terms of the settlement, Garrison was to receive $15,000; further, the CDCR agreed to expunge the rule violation report and restore the 20 days of behavior credits forfeited as a result of that rule violation. The CDCR did not admit liability. The parties signed a stipulation of voluntary dismissal with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii).

On August 27, 2010, however, Johnson filed a motion to enforce the settlement, informing the district court that the CDCR had “not deposited the $15,000 into Plaintiff’s inmate trust account” within 150 days of the settlement, as agreed. The court ordered the defendants to respond to the motion; they did so in October 2010, noting that the $15,000 had since been paid to Johnson after he filed his motion. See: Johnson v. Hickman, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 1:05-cv-01340-LJO-GSA.

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Related legal case

Johnson v. Hickman